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Righteous Kill (2008)
Don't be fooled..
The only reason I gave it two stars was because of the two leading actors. Pacino gets a star and so does De Niro. Unfortunately it isn't enough to save this disaster of a film. It really has the feel of something that was thrown together after getting the confirmation these two great actors had agreed to do the picture. Some of the scenes seem forced and are edited together in rapid-fire fashion that was a real turn-off to me. Hour-long prime time television dramas aren't cut together this poorly. It would be rather unfortunate if this is going to be one of the last times we get to see these two legends on the same screen together.
Great start...then forgettable real quick!
Starts out with a great premise for a superhero story. A superhero who has damaged his credibility with the public and reluctantly tries to build up some star power by enlisting the help of a public relations manager. However half-way through a plot twist comes your way and if you are paying attention, you see it coming. Then before you know it the film ends rather abruptly. Will Smith is gold as usual. He doesn't play his charming all-American good guy. Think more about Dr. House than Superman.
I wanted more from the film because I like the initial concept. I expected more from a script that was penned by former X-Files writer Vince Gilligan too!
Taxi Driver (1976)
So that's what a cab driver is thinking about...
After watching Scorsese win his first Oscar last month, it dawned on me I had yet to see any of his early films. Taxi Driver was on the top of the list. A cult classic among De Niro and Scorsese fans, this dark noir tells of Travis Bickel (De Niro), a pent-up ex-Marine who takes the late shift driving a New York City taxi. Travis' long nights working in the seedy underbelly of the city begin to take their toll on him. Travis goes from a somewhat shy person, who asks out a young campaign worker (Shepherd) with the best of intentions, to a gun-toting madman. In the midst of his transformation, he befriends a young prostitute (Foster), who he feels somewhat compelled to try and save before the dark underbelly of the city swallows her up. All of this comes to a head in a fantastically crafted scene as Travis shoots his way past the young girl's pimp (Keitel) , the brothel's manager, and a client, all on his way to her room. As Travis sits there covered in blood, the camera starts to fade away from the room and the apartment building, police moving in. And of course a much talked about ending, which can be interpreted in many ways.
Taxi Driver is certainly Scorsese's darkest film in terms of subject matter. It's a morbid look inside the mind of a man that is fed up with the failures of his society. However, a young De Niro is absolutely captivating as the deranged cab driver. It's fascinating to watch his mental transformation over the course of two hours of running time. Finding out that De Niro's "You talking' to me" scene in front of the mirror was in fact not in the original script, speak to the excellence of both De Niro and Scorsese.
Rumor Has It... (2005)
How did that rumor get started?
Rumor Has It... takes an interesting premise to serve as a lead point in the story. What if The Graduate, starring Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft, was in fact based on a true story. Furthermore, what if the woman who seduced the younger man, was in fact your grandmother? And what if this man also had an affair with your mother a week before she got married to your father. Mix in the detail of your birthday being more or less nine months from their wedding day and the fact you never feel you have anything in common with the rest of your family and you have the plot line for this Rob Reiner comedy.
Jennifer Aniston plays Sarah Huttinger, who while attending her younger sister's wedding for a weekend in California discovers this very secret from her grandmother, played by the comedic genius, Shirley MacLaine. As the weekend winds down Sarah just can't ignore the fact that this man who was romantically involved with her mother, can in fact be her real father. Further explaining her unattached feelings for her family and her fear of commitment with her fiancé (Ruffalo). She never makes it back to New York with her fiancé, she sets out to find the mysterious Beau Burroughs (Costner), but turns out to get more than she bargains for. When she doesn't receive the answer she wants from him, an unexpected attraction develops and Sarah is conflicted over her feelings for her fiancé and the charming Burroughs.
Rob Reiner weaves a complicated tale, mixing in comedy along the way, but the film has most of its laughs at the start. It turns out to be a film about one woman discovering herself and deciding what she wants out of life. Aniston seems to play her Friends character in this film. I'm not sure I see much of a real acting job here. Costner is charming as always but in her limited screen time Shirley MacLaine steals the show. She delivers her lines with such ferocity and venom as the grandmother who is still somewhat insulted that she didn't get another shot at Costner's character. The film starts to drag a little towards the end but as a whole I thought it was a well crafted film. Certainly an original premise and has a great cast.
School for Scoundrels (2006)
Laughs are few and far between
John Heder stars as a, surprise surprise, nerdy New York City meter-maid who decides to boost his self-confidence by taking a secretive class taught by Billy Bob Thornton. Dr. P (Thornton) is anything but friendly, highly abrasive with the class of individuals who are struggling with their manhood. Thornton evokes his dead-pan character from Bad Santa here. When Roger (Heder) shoots to the head of the class, he is in for trouble when he finds out Dr. P is putting the moves on the woman, Amanda (Barrett), in his apt. building who he wants to date. The slap-stick antics ensue as he enlists the help of some of the other students from the class to exact his revenge.
If you are expecting the same sort of humor that director Todd Phillips delivered in Old School, you'll be left waiting for long stretches as I was. The laughs are in fact few and far between. The film is actually more of a light romantic comedy than anything else, which was unexpected. I found the funniest scenes to include Amanda's roommate played by the hilarious Sarah Silverman. Heder seems to continue to be cast as these nerdy individuals, talk about type-casting. Thornton has a knack for creating these sinister characters, but this one is a far cry from his Bad Santa. I give the film credit for having a nice romantic feel between Heder and Barrett. However, you'll keep waiting for the big laughs that you expect from the filmmakers and they never come, that's why this film disappointed me.
Running with Scissors (2006)
Scatter-brained and without emotion
Based on the memoir of the real life Augustan Burroughs, this film adaptation tells of Burroughs' unusual journey through adolescence. As if that isn't enough he must deal with his neurotic wannabe poet mother (Bening) who decides he would profit from living with her therapist while she sorts through her own personal issues. Augustan (Cross) is introduced to a household that is anything be ordinary. A mother who enjoys snacking on dog kibble, a daughter who has an unhealthy attachment to a cat named Freud, and finally the therapist himself who finds premonitions coming from his toilet (Cox). Augustan also befriends the younger daughter (Wood) who seems to be the only one who has their head screwed on correctly.
From the get-go you can tell this story is far from conventional, however director Ryan Murphy fails to bottle-up any consistent thread of drama or comedy, which makes the film really disjointed and cold. There are actually some poignant moments but they are overshadowed by the shock-value of certain scenes, which Murphy seems more interested in. It's rather unfortunate because there are some great performances here from Bening, Cox, Cross, and Joseph Fiennes, who plays the adopted son who lives in a shack in the back of the house.
The Benchwarmers (2006)
Revenge of the Nerds, baseball-style.
Grownup nerds Schneider, Spade, and Heder decide to get their revenge on growing up being bullied by forming a three-man baseball team that must compete in a tournament against little-leaguers.
It has some laughs but it becomes very tired. Jon Heder seems to be playing the same nerd in this film as he did in Napoleon Dynamite. Spade provides some of his patented one-liners. Also provides some cameos from ESPN personalities Dan Patrick and Sean Salisbury.
It certainly provides some stupid humor, as you would expect from the same comedy minds that brought you Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy. However, it seems to use up all its good material in the first half of the film.
Half Nelson (2006)
Searing Performance by Ryan Gosling
Gosling plays an inner-city high school teacher who happens to give the majority of his history lessons while fighting a hangover. His secret is safe until one of his students, played by Shareeka Epps, finds him strung out in the girls locker room after a basketball game. What starts off as an awkward situation for both blossoms into a friendship. Both provide the other a sense of comfort as they discuss their personal problems.
Ryan Gosling gives a performance that can be considered Edward Norton and Hilary Swank-like. Both actors really gained Hollywood stardom from roles in independent films such as Half Nelson. Much like American-History X and Boys Don't Cry, Half Nelson deals with a somewhat morbid subject matter, in this case its drug addiction. Gosling's character spends a majority of the film slipping in and out of his drug euphoria. You never really know if he is high or coming down. What makes his character so heart-breaking is the realization that his student is an acquaintance of his drug dealer. He fights with the reality that his protection over Drey (Epps) is somewhat hypocritical considering his own drug addiction. Epps herself also deals with the conflict of staying clear of the life that landed her brother in jail but can also see the pros of dealing drugs.
Ryan Fleck effectively captures the unique friendship between Gosling and Epps but I must say the camera work was rather poor. The frames are extremely shaky throughout the film and are very distracting especially during closeups of the actors.
Overall Half Nelson is a great triumph for Gosling and the young Epps as well.
V for Vendetta (2005)
Brilliant Sci-Fi film that deals with relevant issue
After what I considered to be disappointing Matrix sequels, the Wachowski brothers bring to life a graphic novel that hits closer to our current society than one would think.
The story revolves around a masked man who begins to terrorize what has become a totalitarian government in a not too distant future in London, England. He tells of his plan to detonate a bomb that will destroy the British Parliament in a year's time. In the meanwhile he exposes the dark and secretive history of some of the government's highest ranking officials, which fuel his vengeance and also explain his past. The masked "V" befriends a young broadcast worker (Portman), who he confides in to help him with his destructive plans. She struggles between living in the flawed world she knows and rebelling against it to make some semblance of change.
First-time director James McTeige brings with him a wealth of knowledge on how to craft this sci-fi tale, having been an assistant director on the Matrix films. The visual stylization makes every frame feel like it is jumping right out of the comic book. Plus, beautiful special effects that are not overly-gratuitous. While you never see his face, Hugo Weaving's delightful voice shines through V's mask. I could not think of any other person I would have playing this part. Weaving gives the character such a human depth that you can almost see the expressionless mask he wears, show emotion. Natalie Portman, who plays V's confidant Evey, also gives a surprisingly deep performance and a flawless British accent to boot. Stephen Rea and John Hurt also round out an excellent cast.
While the film's conclusion is somewhat rushed, Vendetta as a whole is a brilliant piece of science fiction, uniquely blending fantasy with today's reality.
The Big Lebowski (1998)
White Russians, a Dude, and Bowling!
So a broke stoner/bowling lover wants revenge against hoodlums who mistakingly urinate on his living room carpet. Let the games begin! Bridges stars as "The Dude" Lebowski who enlists the help of his friend, ex-Vietnam vet Walter (Goodman) to exact revenge against a wealthy businessman with the same namesake. It turns out he gets way more than he bargained for; agreeing to find the millionaire's young wife, who has gone missing. It turns out he is not the only one looking for this woman or the ransom money. The Dude encounters an eccentric cast of characters, from the millionaire's daughter (Moore) to a gang of German Nihilists (including Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea).
The story is extremely wacky which lead to lots of hilarity in some scenes. The best part is that the film never takes itself seriously, its more of a dark comedy than anything else. The glue of the film for me is the great pairing of Bridges and Goodman. Goodman's character constantly looks to associate every situation with the Vietnam war. Bridges is brilliant because of his laid-back appearance, including a robe and sandals.
However the story seems to hit a few snags along the way and for me makes the film far from perfect. These snags for me are segments that seem to make the film drag a bit, time-wise. There seem to be too many characters that pop-up and then we are forced to revisit them later in the film.
In conclusion, its a great dark comedy that doesn't follow conventional plot lines, a Cohen brothers trademark. It's worth watching for the scenes with Goodman and Bridges alone.