Wednesday, May 30, 2012


Does Taylor Kitsch have what it takes to headline a feature film? That’s the question I asked myself after his last two films, John Carter and Battleship, both bombed at the box office. I won’t talk about the former here (you can read my review to find out more), but I will explore the latter, which earned $25.5 million in its opening weekend, well below the expected $35-$40 million. Despite failing to draw a big audience, Battleship did inspire some fairly positive reviews. For that reason, I gave it a shot.

I will admit that I am a fan of the Hasbro board game Battleship, but I was a bit skeptical a full-length film could be constructed around the game’s simplicity. How could they do it? The answer is simple: aliens.

For those who don’t know, here is how describes Battleship’s premise: “A fleet of ships is forced to do battle with an armada of unknown origins in order to discover and thwart their destructive goals.”

Now I happen to like alien movies and fancy a good navy flick. Could a fusion of the two succeed? The recipe obviously didn’t resonate with the masses, but I confess that the movie proved to be better than I expected; in fact, I actually enjoyed it. It’s certainly not a future Oscar winner, but it is a special effects flick reminiscent of Transformers, Independence Day and Under Siege. Interestingly, the U.S.S. Missouri was the ship featured in the latter film and it plays a prominent role in Battleship.

Like the naval game itself, the story in Battleship is simple. Aliens land in the ocean off the coast of Hawaii, the navy responds and battle ensues. The story itself couldn't carry the film on its own, but it is strengthened by good special effects, engaging visuals and some surprisingly solid performances.

For instance, Kitsch put in a satisfying performance as Lieutenant Alex Hopper, a irresponsible guy who is about to get kicked out of the navy before a serious and deadly situation force him to change his ways. Seeing his transformation from a self-indulgent flunky to a well-meaning hero was believable and gratifying. In my opinion Kitsch gave one of his best performances, one that has temporarily restored by faith that he can carry a film.

Another actor who put in a tremendous performance was Alexander Skarsgård, who played Commander Stone Hopper. He was the opposite of his brother (Kitsch’s character) in that he was responsible, put together well and had a promising future. I last saw Skarsgård in Straw Dogs where he played a villain, and while he did a fine job there, I prefer him as a hero. Skarsgård's time in Battleship is cut short, but he did a stellar job with the scenes he was given.

The same can be said of Rihanna (making her feature film debut), Brooklyn Decker, Tadanobu Asano and Gregory D. Gadson, all of whom had major roles. Gadson, who is a real-life marine and lost both his legs in duty, does a fine job interacting with Decker’s character. His acting may have been a little weaker than that of his fellow cast mates, but he brought a sense of realism and emotion to the film that reaches the audience.

While the performances were good as a whole, I was disappoint with Liam Neeson’s character, Admiral Shane. As I’ve said many times before, I like me some Neeson, but his role in Battleship was so minimal that it was an extreme disappointment. His character got little screen time and wasn’t essential to the storyline. He was an outsider, and he’s too good a talent to be utilized in such a capacity.

Complimenting the actors were some pretty cool sequences. For instance, I highly enjoyed the scenes that showed just what our battleships and destroyers can do. It’s really awe inspiring to watch as they let loose and demonstrate their full capabilities. In addition, I thought it was a nice touch for the director, Peter Berg, to pay homage to the Battleship game. He did this in two ways. The first was shaping the alien “missiles” like the pegs used in the game to mark hits and misses. Sounds corny but they definitely made it work as those pegs packed quite the punch; come to think of it, they made a few corny moments work.

The second way they paid homage was a clever, albeit far stretched, way of tracking the enemy ships through tsunami buoys when their radar was down. It was completed with a full grid marked with letters and numbers. A nice nostalgic nod to its inspiration.

All in all I enjoyed Battleship. It was definitely better than I expected and I walked out of the theater satisfied. If you’re looking for an action-packed quasi-sci-fi film, I recommend you ignore all the box office bomb talk and give it a try, I’m glad I did.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 70%

Follow us on Twitter at Buddies4everMC, like us on Facebook, & find us on Google+ for all the latest and greatest movie reviews.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Dictator

I recently had the opportunity to visit New Orleans, Louisiana for the first time since leaving law school and moving away in 2008. While there, I met up with an old law-school roommate, Mr. Guillermo Cancio, and he invited me to see the new film The Dictator, which had come out the day before. Not only was it a great chance to catch up with an old friend, but it was the perfect opportunity for a new Buddies Forever Movie Club review.

According to IMDb, The Dictator is “The heroic story of a dictator who risks his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed.” It stars Sacha Baron Cohen, who you no doubt remember from films such as Borat and Bruno. Both those films are notorious for their vulgarity and bigotry as they explore such issues as intolerance, racism, terrorism, homosexuality, etc.

Both films crossed the line numerous times, utilizing uncomfortable situations and a mockumentary filming style to dupe unsuspecting "actors," a recipe that resonated with viewers. Granted, a slew of folks were offended and hated those movies, but even more laughed their asses off.

I was among the masses that enjoyed Borat, and I thought Bruno was decent, so I expected The Dictator to follow in their footsteps. While it did just that, the outcome wasn’t the same. Instead of incorporating unsuspecting participants by filming social pranks, The Dictator goes a pure Hollywood route, meaning everyone in the film is in fact a real actor. There are no contrived, awkward social interactions that have characterized Cohen’s previous films. Removing that crucial ingredient made things somewhat bland.

While I was disappointed by this fact, there were still plenty of classic-Cohen moments. His racism, which is passed off as naivety, is there, though hit and miss when it came to laughs, and the same can be said about the disgusting/repulsive/sickening tactics.

One of my favorite moments involved Cohen’s character, Aladeen, and his accomplice Nadal, played by Jason Mantzoukas, in a helicopter tour over New York City. The two are using it as a way of reconnoitering a hotel, but of course the situation is presented with a terrorism angle. The scene I’m talking about has been featured in the previews, but the film expands on it greatly. I certainly had a good laugh, even though they were speaking Hebrew and not Arabic, and there were a few other moments like it that made the film amusing.

Other things I liked were Bobby Lee’s portrayal of Mr. Lao, a I’m-not-homosexual-but-on-a-power-trip Chinese businessman. He only had a few brief scenes, but every one was hilarious, especially the ones featuring his wife and an Edward Norton cameo.

Speaking of cameos, there were quite a few throughout the movie that gave it a little spice. Fred Armisen, Chris Elliott, John C. Reilly, Megan Fox, Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz were some of the actors I recognized and appreciated in their limited roles.

On the flip side, I was very disappointed with Ben Kingsley’s character, Tamir, who is an advisor that betrays Aladeen. It was an extremely lackluster and halfhearted performance, almost as if he was in it simply to collect a paycheck.

Cameos and helicopter scene aside, many of the jokes in The Dictator fell flat. I wasn’t feeling the hairy-armpit, child-of-the earth-shtick applied to Anna Faris’ character, Zoey. I like her as an actress, but wasn’t feeling the connection as Aladeen’s love interest.

For me, The Dictator signaled the continued decline of Sacha Baron Cohen’s film career. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t crashed and burned, but in my opinion it is waning. I loved him in 2006’s Talladega Nights:The Ballad of Ricky Bobby and Borat, liked him in 2009’s Bruno, and was merely appeased by The Dictator.

It was an alright movie, one you might find funnier and more entertaining than I did, but I’d wait for Netflix or Redbox if I were you.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 47%

Follow us on Twitter at Buddies4everMC, like us on Facebook, & find us on Google+ for all the latest and greatest movie reviews.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Avengers

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a bit of a comic book geek, so you can imagine how excited I was for the release of  The Avengers, Marvel Studio’s $200 million blockbuster that featured an ensemble cast from films such as Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger.

While the idea to produce standalone titles and connect them in bigger, higher profile title has characterized the comic world for years, it is a new concept to Hollywood. Could Marvel Studio’s novel approach succeed on the big screen? There were certainly a lot of critics, but after The Avengers raked in $200.3 million in it’s first weekend, surpassing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 for the biggest three-day U.S. weekend ever, the answer is a resounding yes.

I can’t even begin to explain how thrilled I am that The Avengers proved a hit. I believe it will open the door for even more comic book adaptations, which of course I'm all for, and will lead to more Hollywood films playing into one another. What’s more, The Avengers is a legitimately great movie.

The reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and everyone who sees the films agrees that director Joss Whedon has delivered every fan boy’s dream. As one of these so-called fan boys, I was worried the film would try to tackle too much, after all it was filled with A-list stars like Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, ChrisHemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Scarlett Johansson.

Most of those actors had carried their own Marvel film, so how would they do as a team? Thanks to Whedon’s magic, he managed to make a well-balanced film where no single character is featured more, or presented as more important, than the others. Everyone had a part to play, and each played it to perfection.

Speaking of parts to play, Mark Ruffalo had the biggest shoes to fill as he was filling in for Edward Norton as Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk. He had never appeared in a Marvel film before, and naturally I was hesitant. I’m not a fan of replacing actors in franchises, but I must admit Ruffalo blew me away; in fact, I think he made a more compelling Banner than Norton ever did.

Simply put, I loved The Avengers. I went and saw a special midnight showing and it surpassed my every expectation. For two hours, I was entranced by "Earth’s Mightiest Heroes" and gave way to the humor, action and spectacle that was The Avengers.

About the only qualms I had with the movie was the absence of a few previously established Marvel Universe players. For instance, War Machine from Iron Man 2 was nowhere to be found, while any references/connections to 2008’s The Incredible Hulk were nowhere to be found (That means no Betty Ross/ Liv Tyler, Abomination/Tim Roth and General “Thunderbolt” Ross/William Hurt). Likewise, Natalie Portman’s character from Thor was briefly mentioned in the movie, but it was merely in the form of a quick explanation as to why she wasn’t in the film (protective custody). With that said, I was impressed that they included Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts.

Working in some of the abovementioned characters (maybe have Loki enlist the help of villains introduced in the other films?) is the only thing I can think of that would have made the movie better. It’s certainly being nitpicky, but that small detail was the only thing missing from what I believe is a near-perfect comic book movie.

As I said before, The Avengers exceeded my expectations in every way, and I cannot wait for Marvel Studios to build upon this franchise, I just wish they could get other licensed franchises back under their control and do the same (I.e. X-Men, Daredevil, Spider-Man, Ghost Rider, Fantastic Four, etc.). The idea to develop a blockbuster that connects separate films is now a proven recipe for success, especially when it comes to the comic book genre, and I’m confident we’ll see more of this in the years to come.

I highly recommend you check out The Avengers, as evidenced by the highest ranking I’ve ever assigned to a movie. Don’t get me wrong, this is not your classic masterpiece, but given the subject matter, Whedon proved a true marvel. The Avengers is the best movie experience I’ve had in years, and I can’t wait to see it again.

Final Words of Advice: If you decide to check out The Avengers, make sure to stay until the very end of the credits as there is a little bonus seen to be enjoyed.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 98%

Follow us on Twitter at Buddies4everMC, like us on Facebook, & find us on Google+ for all the latest and greatest movie reviews.