January 12, 2013

Gangster Squad

I saw five movies less than a month- four of them in two weeks - so I've fallen behind in my movie reviewing. Now that I've tapped out the Oscar nominees, I have time to write a little...
It's quite a feat to make a genre film that contributes almost nothing to the genre. An amazing composite of existing characters and tropes (LA Confidential, The Untouchables, Chinatown: call your attorneys), Gangster Squad barely registered on my consciousness. Josh Brolin grimly trudges along, gritting his teeth every step of the way. Ryan Gosling floats along, charming every woman in the theater (so THAT's what I've been hearing about) with an long face, walleyed expression, and odd high voice. Emma Stone does an okay job, clearly out of her comfort zone as a doomed moll - the Kim Basinger role from LA Confidential. What Sean Penn was thinking when he agreed to make this movie is beyond me. His sociopathic goblin is a sad shadow of Pacino and DeNiro's Scarfaces. My Grade: C-plus

Hat Squad?

This movie is based on the true story of the police squad that fought organized crime in Los Angeles in the 1940s and 50s. This story has been told at least twice before- in a 1992-93 TV show (produced by Stephen J. Cannell) called  Hat Squad ...that lasted for 13 episodes.

Then there's the 1996 movie  Mulholland Falls- not to be confused with Mulholland Dr - that also stars Nick Nolte. I remember Mulholland Falls for the wonderful cast, and Jennifer Connelly!

Spoiler Alert

What's the point of a gangster movie where no one dies? Only Giovanni Ribisi's electronics geek dies. I would have bumped this up a full letter grade if Brolin, Gosling, or Stone had died. Gangster Squad includes the scene from The Untouchables where the bad guys show up at the hero's house and threaten his family. In this remake, the gangsters shoot up his house into Swiss cheese, but Brolin's pregnant wife -- she even resembles Eliot Ness's wife -- not only does she survive the shooting, she successfully delivers her own baby in the bathtub. Aren't BAD things supposed to happen in gangster movies?

Theater Notes

The ladies in the Somerville Theater audience truly adored Ryan Gosling. I don't remember another movie where the ladies were completely enthralled.

January 6, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

I saw five movies less than a month- four of them in two weeks - so I've fallen behind in my movie reviewing. Now that I've tapped out the Oscar nominees, I have time to write a little...

Gripping and fascinating thriller, which happens to be based on the true story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The film built so much credibility with its unflinching and unpretentious depiction of the torture and spy game.
The first third of the movie explicitly depicts waterboarding and other advanced interrogation techniques used on Al Qaeda. There's no fingernails torn out, as in Syriana, but it still evokes strong emotional responses in everyone who sees it. I personally felt obliged to see this movie. The violence was the opposite of gratuitous, it was necessary and almost clinical in its presentation.
The ultimate raid on the Abbotobad compound felt completely real. I felt like I was watching a complete and honest recreation of the events of May 2, 2011. For the last half-hour, you could have heard a pin drop in the theater.
My Grade: A
Regal Fenway

January 5, 2013

This Is 40

I saw five movies less than a month- four of them in two weeks - so I've fallen behind in my movie reviewing. Now that I've tapped out the Oscar nominees, I have time to write a little...

This is 40 is a brutally honest and funny portrait of a typical couple burdened with running a family household with two jobs, and the "golden handcuffs" of unrealistic social expectations. I had a hard time sympathizing with a couple on the brink of bankruptcy...who live in a million-dollar house and drive a Lexus and a BMW. I'm all for following your dreams, but it's the height of narcissism for a music lover who can't keep a job in the dying music industry (Paul Rudd) to start his own boutique record label? He had two kids to feed! The core issues for their marriage struck hard, but I had to laugh at Paul Rudd in the parking lot, crying in his BMW 5 series. Leslie Mann, meanwhile, at age 40 and 1% body fat, lies about her age, smokes on the DL, and may exercise compulsively. To conclude, I have to ask the same question I asked about the Nancy Meyers movies Something's Gotta Give and It's Complicated: wouldn't this movie be equally good if the characters weren't millionaires?
Bike helmets save lives, and are inherently funny and
emasculating, all at the same time.
 THEATER NOTES: Kinda weird for a single 40-year-old man to see This Is 40 alone. I didn't plan it- I arrived too late for Zero Dark Thirty, bought a ticket for This Is 40 instead. Is "40" ten better than "30"?
Regal Fenway