Monday, July 30, 2012


I’m a fan of Oliver Stone. While I wasn’t overly impressed by a couple of his more recent films, like W. and World Trade Center, I have always enjoyed Any Given SundayNatural Born Killers and JFK, just to name a few. As such, I was excited for Stone’s most recent project, Savages.

For those who don’t know, IMDb explains the film’s premise: “Pot growers Ben and Chon face off against the Mexican drug cartel who kidnapped their shared girlfriend.”

It’s a simple story, and timely too as Mexican drug cartels are constantly making headlines. You would think the combination of a provocative director, up-to-date storyline, and interesting cast would make for an engaging film, but that wasn’t really the case; in fact, I found Savages to be quite bland.

Given the source material, I was expecting some hardcore sex and violence, perhaps something along the lines of Natural Born Killers, but what I got was more of an subdued look at what the relationship between a small pot operation and the cartel could be like. There were a few instances of violence, such as a beheading video and the burning of a man, but I’ve come to expect more from Stone.

The movie started off fine and it was on pace to be something special, but somewhere along the line it stalled and failed to regain momentum. Character development ceased, the plot wasn’t pushed forward, and everything became mired. 

While Blake Lively was lovely to look at, I was left shaking my head every time she opened her mouth. The first instance of this came via an ill-advised narration theme, while other instances of dissatisfaction accompanied her performance. It seemed as if Lively was trying too hard, which proved to be a big turn off that even her good looks couldn’t overcome.

It was also dispiriting to know that she wasn’t even the first choice; in fact, Jennifer Lawrence was originally cast as the leading lady but had to pull out to do The Hunger Games. Needless to say, it was a wise choice by her, and I suppose it could have been worse as Lindsay Lohan had expressed interest in the role.

In terms of the other performances, they were hit and miss. Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson were the film’s other two main characters, all of whom were involved in a bizarre love triangle with Lively’s “O.” Both did a decent job, but neither gave what I would call a memorable performance. I will say that it was cool seeing Kitsch playing a different role than he did in John Carter and Battelship, namely former marine and current badass/enforcer, Chon.

On the flip side, some of the supporting roles were pleasing. John Travolta did a good job in his role as DEA agent Dennis. I’ve become accustomed to seeing Travolta as a confident hero or dominating villain, so it was satisfying watching him pull off a character that was weak, unconfident and a survivalist. His character had depth, and it did not go unnoticed.

Likewise, I enjoyed Benicio Del Toro and Salma Hayek as members of the cartel. The former just makes a great villain, and his character in the film, Lado, was intriguing; likewise, it was cool watching Hayek put on her wig and play the role of a villainous. Both of their characters could have been explored even more, but they were certainly among the most interesting in the film.

Despite a few satisfying performances, Savages ended up being a fairly boring affair. I never felt a connection with the lead characters, the action/violence was tame, and what could have been an enchanting storyline proved to be uninspiring. I also despised the endings of the film, which definitely left me wanting. Savages wasn’t over-the-top in the least, and I’ve read more interesting cartel stories in the newspaper; as such, I recommend you skip this movie altogether. 

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 50%

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Comic films seemed to dominate the summer of 2012. The Amazing Spider-Man and The Avengers were two great successes, but there was no greater excitement than that which surrounded The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s revered trilogy. It was a must-see, and the only question was whether or not it could live up to the standard set by 2008’s The Dark Knight.

As I’ve stated many times, I’m a fan of comics books. With that said, I’ve always been more of a Marvel man as opposed to DC, but I still know my fair share about Batman lore. Plus, I enjoyed Batman Begins and thought The Dark Knight was amazing and should have won an Academy Award for best picture.

For those who don’t know about the latest installment, IMDb explains: “Eight years on, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham's finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy.”

People have been hailing The Dark Knight Rises as an Oscar contender, but I don’t agree. It was a good movie and highly enjoyable, but it wasn’t nearly as good as The Dark Knight. It’s hard for me to imagine Rises could win either Best Picture or Best Director when the middle movie didn’t. That’s not meant to be a dig on the new chapter, but rather a compliment to The Dark Knight.

Getting back to business, The Dark Knight Rises was better than good, but fell short of being great. It was a great continuation of the story and a satisfactory capstone to the trilogy, but it didn’t have the same mind-blowing performances (i.e. Heath Ledger as the Joker—which earned him a well-deserved posthumous Oscar) and dark storyline that made The Dark Knight so great. As Nolan has stated, the new installment features “Pain” as a theme; whereas, Batman Begins centered on “Fear” and The Dark Knight on “Chaos.” For me, watching “Chaos” is the best, but “Pain” trumps “Fear;” in other words, The Dark Knight Rises is better than Batman Begins but not as good The Dark Knight.

Christian Bale once again portrayed Batman, and he did an awesome job as always. Likewise, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine were back in their respective roles, and each delivered brilliantly. New additions to the cast included Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Gotham City Police Officer Blake; Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman; Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate/Talia al Ghul; and Tom Hardy as Bane.

All of these actors delivered engaging performances, but it was the main villain of the film that impressed me. Thanks to my love of comics, I was aware of Bane, but a lot of people weren’t familiar with the character. To put it bluntly, Bane is pain incarnate. He experiences it (his tricked out mask keeps it at bay), and dishes out even more. I really enjoyed watching Bane in action, and contrary to many, I was a fan of his voice, which was based upon Irish traveller and bare-knuckle boxer Bartley Gorman (1944-2002). It certainly takes some getting used to, but I thought it brought a touch of class to a bad-ass villain. A nice job by Hardy.

On the other hand, the addition of Catwoman seemed a bit frivolous. The character, while a big-time player in the Batman universe, didn’t add much to the film and it almost seemed as if she was added to appease fans. I’d have like to have either seen her character's development expanded or tied into the storyline more intimately, but to be completely honest, it’s not easy to fill the shoes left by Ledger’s Joker. Bane is just a step behind, but Catwoman failed to bring the duo into the upper echelon of villain.

As I said before, while they may not be at the same level as Ledger’s Joker, the performances in The Dark Knight Rises did not leave me wanting. In fact, my only qualms involved the story. Whereas The Dark Knight was a tight package, The Dark Knight Rises was more of a sieve, able to hold it’s own but with a few holes.

One of those holes was glossing over some lingering questions. I respect Nolan’s decision to avoid talk of the Joker, who is neither mentioned nor referenced in the film, out of respect for the late Ledger, but there were some situations introduced that warranted clarification. For instance, Bane ends up taking Gotham City hostage for many months, but the timeline surrounding it wasn’t exactly clear as it seemed events were taking place over a couple days/weeks as opposed to months.

Likewise, Bane imprisons Bruce Wayne in an “ancient place” somewhere in the world, whichappears to be somewhere in the Middle East. Inexplicably, the time it took to get Wayne to the prison, and his subsequent return to Gotham City are glossed over. Not a big deal, as any competent viewer can fill in the blanks, but it was still a blank that needed filling in, something you didn’t see much of in The Dark Knight.

There were a few other instances like those above, and they did not go unnoticed. They didn’t sink the ship, so to speak, but they were a few loose ends that could have made the film better had they been tied; although, the film did clock in at 164 minutes, the longest of the trilogy, so I supposed they couldn’t explain everything in great detail.

In regards to the ending, which many have found polarizing, I won’t say much as I don’t want to reveal any spoilers. However, I will say that it was a satisfactory ending. I liked the twist with Gordon-Levitt’s character, and was hit or miss with what they did to Batman. If this is really the last film for Nolan, I might have avoided the route they took, but then again, no one likes to see the hero die. Plus, while Batman lives, there’s always a chance for a fourth film, which no doubt sits well with studio executives.

All in all The Dark Knight Rises was on par with what I was expecting. This review might come off a bit negative or lackluster, but let me be clear—it was a very good movie and I enjoyed it. If you liked the first two films, you’ll enjoy the third.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 82%

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Monday, July 23, 2012


Let me start off by saying that, initially, I wasn’t planning on seeing Ted. The idea of a vulgar teddy bear chumming it up with Mark Wahlberg didn’t really appeal to me. Then, after being released for a week, I began to hear great reviews via word of mouth. “It’s the funniest movie ever,” a few of my friends said, which inspired me to give it a chance. I wouldn’t say it was the funniest movie ever, but it was friggin’ hilarious.

For those who don’t know, IMDb describes the premise: “As the result of a childhood wish, John Bennett's teddy bear, Ted, came to life and has been by John's side ever since - a friendship that's tested when Lori, John's girlfriend of four years, wants more from their relationship.”

It sounds a bit corny, but thanks to the comedic genius of Seth MacFarlane, the movie really comes to life.  For me, it was like watching a real-life episode of Family Guy, but with different characters. There were hilarious flashback scenes, daydreams, raunchiness, uncomfortable scenarios, and everything in between. Simply put, if you’re a fan of Family Guy, you’ll definitely be a fan of Ted.

If you’re not familiar with Family Guy, fear not, Ted still has plenty to offer. The first thing you’ll need to know though, is that this is an R-rated comedy. While there is a teddy bear involved, this movie isn’t for kids. As I mentioned before, there was a lot of raunchiness, which turns out can be quite funny coming from a stuffed teddy bear.

Not only did MacFarlane write and direct the film, he voiced Ted and even donned a motion-capture suit to portray him. By doing so, he injected some life and enthusiasm, turning a computer-generated character into something more. Without a doubt, Ted is the star of this film.

With that said, he receives some complimentary performances throughout. For instance, Wahlberg does a great job breaking from action flicks and tackling a comedy role. I tend to be hit or miss when it comes Wahlberg’s performances, but in Ted he hits it out of the park as John Bennett (coincidentally that’s the same name as my ex-girlfriend’s fiancé). It’s hard to imagine Wahlberg as a grown, irresponsible, and innocent man-child, but he pulls it off with flying colors.

Likewise, Mila Kunis does a great job as Bennett’s girlfriend, Lori Collins, who believes Ted branching out on his own is best for everyone. Obviously this causes some friction, and ultimately sets up some pretty funny situations. It couldn’t have been easy to convince two Hollywood stars of Kunis and Wahlberg’s caliber to star in a film about a talking teddy bear, but kudos to them both for taking the risk.

Kudos are also in order for Giovanni Ribisi and Joel McHale for delivering on their supporting roles, as well as Patrick Stewart’s narrating duties and cameo appearances by Tom Skerritt, Norah Jones, Alex Borstein and Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon. It never ceases to amaze me how MacFarlane can take a stagnant career, like those of Skerritt and Jones, and seemingly revive them simply by featuring them as an extreme caricature of themselves.

Ted was a great first outing for MacFarlane, and I look forward to his future endeavors in the feature film realm. Surprisingly, his animation-comedy techniques translate well to the big screen, and Ted had me laughing non-stop; in fact, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard, and I can’t remember the last time that happened. If you enjoy a good R-rated comedy, then Ted is a must.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 75%

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Monday, July 16, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m a comic book fan; in fact, the highest rating I’ve ever given in this blog was to comic-book movie, The Avengers (though that was based more on its merits than the genre). With that said, I was still a bit apprehensive with The Amazing Spider-Man, Columbia Picture’s reboot on the franchise.

It was just five years ago that Spider-Man 3 was released, the third installment of the popular franchise. While the general consensus, of which I agree, was that the third one was subpar compared to the first two, wasn’t it too soon for a reboot with a new director to replace Sam Rami and a new star to don the suit in place of Tobey McGuire?

I had my hesitations, but of course I was going to give it a shot. For those who don’t know, the new film goes back to the beginning, when Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man while in high school. As IMDb explains: “Peter Parker finds a clue that might help him understand why his parents disappeared when he was young. His path puts him on a collision course with Dr. Curt Connors, his father's former partner.”

It was nice to see that The Amazing Spider-Man didn’t traverse the same territory as its predecessors. Sure, there were a few similarities between the films, but they were always essential to the story (i.e. Spider-Man’s origin). Otherwise, the new installment brought a lot to the party.

First and foremost was the new man behind the mask, Andrew Garfield. Best known for playing Eduardo Saverin in The Social Network, Garfield seemed a curious choice to play Peter Parker. He beat out such actors as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Taylor Lautner, Michael Cera and Anton Yelchin for the role, but even so I had my reservations.

Once I learned that he got the blessing of Maguire and was a bit of a comic geek, I felt a bit better, but it ended up being his performance that blew me away. I’ve read Spider-Man comics for a long time, and Garfield is exactly how I picture Peter Parker. His mannerism and wit was spot on, and he had the lean, slender build that has always characterized Spider-Man (I always thought Maguire was a bit too beefy).

The only drawback for Garfield is that it’s hard to imagine him as an unlikeable geek in high school. He’s just got the look, attitude and inherent confidence that goes against it; in other words, he’s just too smooth and cool to be looked down on. On the flip side, Garfield accomplished something Maguire was never able to do, he brought the character to life. Maybe it was just me, but I always though Maguire’s portrayal lacked conviction and enthusiasm.

Another thing that I liked was the new villain. There are a few iconic antagonists in the Spider-Man universe, many of which have been featured in previous films. It was important for the filmmakers to bring a new character into the fray, which they did with the Lizard, played brilliantly by Rhys Ifans. While I’d have preferred the movie-version Lizard to have a snout like in the comic books, I must admit I found the character intriguing, visually appealing (great CGI) and an all-around badass.

The addition of other new characters like Captain Stacy and Gwen Stacey, was also a pleasant spin on the story. Both have had big roles in the Spider-Man universe, and the filmmakers did a good job shying away from the Mary Jane Watson love story to that of Peter Parker’s first love, the blonde bombshell Gwen Stacey, played superbly by the very-talented Emma Stone. Interestingly, Stone had to change her hair from red to blonde to play the leading lady, while years earlier Kirsten Dunst had to go from blonde to red.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Sally Field and Martin Sheen as Aunt May and Uncle Ben respectively. They had limited roles, but they lit up the screen when they were on, especially the latter. I liked these two characters in the first Spider-Man film, but I loved them in the reboot.

I will admit that, at times, The Amazing Spider-Man felt a lot like it’s predecessor, but truth be told I like the new version better. It was more modern, Garfield proved to be a great Peter Parker, and overall it generally felt more true to the comics. I had an awesome time at the film, despite not being able to see it in 3D because of a sold-out theater, and I have no doubt it will inspire an enduring and successful franchise. Kudos to director Marc Webb, who has an appropriate name for the film.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 85%

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

When you think of Steve Carell, it’s hard not to imagine him as one of his iconic kooky characters like The Office’s Michael Scott or Maxwell Smart in Get Smart; in fact, sometimes it’s just downright hard to take Carell seriously, such as the title character in Dan in Real Life. With that said, I was skeptical of Carell’s new film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, in which he plays a fairly straight-laced character.

For those who don’t know, describes the premise of the film: “As an asteroid nears Earth, a man finds himself alone after his wife leaves in a panic. He decides to take a road trip to reunite with his high school sweetheart. Accompanying him is a neighbor who inadvertently puts a wrench in his plan.”

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World makes it clear right from the get go that the world is going to end, which sets a unique stage for the characters. Carell’s part, an insurance salesman named Dodge, is soft spoken, naïve, and facing a midlife (or would it be end-of-life?) crisis amid imminent doom, which proves quite the predicament in a hopeless world.

The story itself, and the underlying context, is what brings the film to life. Viewers get to see a whole spectrum of reactions to the end of the world: some people can’t handle the pressure, while others seem to thrive. For better or worse, reconciliation, uninhibited sex, heroin, love, family, survivalists and suicide are just some of the things you’ll encounter in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

While the movie does have its fair share of funny parts, it isn’t your traditional Carell comedy. I’d classify it as a comedy and drama hybrid, also known as a "dramedy." The story is centered on despair, hopelessness and dread, but at the same time there are uplifting moments of redemption, tenderness and living life to the fullest. The film, which will have you laughing one moment and deep in thought in another, has the unique ability to invoke extreme emotions, which isn’t too surprising considering it was written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, who also wrote another journey-for-love film by the name of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

While the story is strong, it is made all the stronger by some great performances. The aforementioned Carell shook his trademark slapstick shtick and demonstrated that he’s like a Transformer, there is more to him than meets the eye. Likewise, Keira Knightley rocked it as Penny, the woman who would change Dodge’s life at the end of days. I’ve always liked Knightley, but this is one of the first films where I felt like she truly let herself go. “I promise not to steal anything if you promise not to rape me,” is just one of Knightley’s more memorable lines.

Martin Sheen also does a tremendous job in a limited role as Dodge's father. I'm glad to see Sheen back in the saddle as the man clearly knows how to act. Furthermore, I also the various cameos throughout the film including those by Rob Huebel, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, Amy Schumer, T.J.Miller and Jim O’Heir. Each of these actors had small roles, but combined they added a unique blend of amusement and intimacy to the film.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised with how enjoyable Seeking a Friend for the End of the World turned out to be. It proved a great blend of comedy, sincerity and drama that presented viewers with a number of existential questions; in other words, it was not only entertaining, the movie had me thinking about things long after I left the theater. It’s rare for a film to do that, but I always appreciate it when it does.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 87%

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