Monday, May 27, 2013

Fast & Furious 6

If you are an action junkie with a need for speed, this is the film for you. Returning once again to the original crew, the creative team behind this series has found a way to up the ante with spectacular stunt sequences and pretty much non-stop action.

 Vin Diesel returns as Dom, along with Paul Walker, Tyrese Gibson, "Ludicris", Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Sung Kang and of course Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Joining them this time out is MMA star Gina Carano as a federal agent. Of course Michelle Rodriguez's character Letty is supposed to have died but the screenwriters find a convenient way to bring her back as they needed a motivating plot point.

The basic plot is nothing new but the stunts along the way are mind blowing. Whether or not they are real or CGI (or a combination of both) doesn't matter, everything blends seamlessly and looks incredibly real.

Even the fight sequences are bone crunching and there are plenty of those to go along with the explosions, car crashes and flying bullets. The much needed comedy relief is provided by the wise-cracking Ludicris and Tyrese.  There is an interesting clip from "Tokyo Drift" which sets up Fast & Furious 7 during the end credits so don't be in a hurry to leave.

The film is the very definition of summer popcorn fun. Check your logic at the door, put in your ear plugs and enjoy the ride.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pain & Gain

 Director Michael Bay tones it down just a notch for this comedic look at a crime gone bad. The movie is based on a true story about three losers who decide to kidnap a wealthy businessman to get all his money and property. The premise is pretty ridiculous but amazingly it's all true.

      Mark Walhberg stars as Daniel Lugo, the "mastermind" who works in a gym and decides to kidnap one of his clients, played by Tony Shalhoub. This fitness freak enlists the help of his best friend, dimwitted Adrian Dorbal, played by Anthony Mackie to help him pull off the kidnapping. Deciding they need a third person for the job, they convince Paul Doyle, played by Dwayne Johnson (The Rock) to help them. These are the three dumbest criminals in history and what happens next is unbelievable, but as we are literally reminded, its a true story. 

      Mr. Bay shows a little restraint behind the camera but can't help show off his signature flourishes.  Stop action, slow-motion and excess violence all contribute to the ensuing mayhem. While the kidnapping turns violent, the movie is still very funny. The three leads all play dumb so well. Mr. Johnson, in particular is terrific as Paul Doyle. The film is definitely played for laughs with help from a supporting cast of Rebel Wilson and Rob Corddry.

          You will laugh a lot at the stupidity but probably feel a little disturbed if you stop to think this all really happened. After all, the story involves torture and murder. It's a smart movie about really stupid people. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stark Trek: Into Darkness

Director J.J. Adams continues his reboot of Star Trek with a worthy sequel. The best thing to be said of "Into Darkness" is that you will feel like you're watching a TV episode of the original Star Trek on the big screen.

Writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Damon Lindelof and J.J. Adams treat their material with such love and respect for the original series that combined with the perfect casting, everything fits perfectly to recreate the world of Star Trek. There are the requisite verbal and sight gags that reference the original and yet, at the same time, this group make the film their own. The story borrows a major character from the past and gives him the back story he deserves.

The same cast returns and fill their respective roles admirably. Chris Pine is growing on me but he still has some work to do inhabiting the role that made William Shatner a star.  Zackary Quinto is a fine Spock and Karl Urban does a dead on Dr. McCoy with all his verbal nuances intact. Simon Pegg also returns as "Scotty, along with John Cho as Sulu, Anton Yelchin as Chekov, and Zoe Salanda as Uhura. The villain of the story is played by Benedict Cumberbatch who usually plays good guys and here, makes a truly ruthless villain.

There's plenty of action that plays well on the big screen, even in 2-D and I'm sure even more impressive in IMAX format and 3-D (although I was very satisfied without it). May the inevitable sequels live long and prosper. 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Great Gatsby

       Director Baz Lurmann brings his over the top creativity to the forefront in this new version of "The Great Gatsby". It is more style than substance... but oh what style.

        Leonardo DiCaprio and Cary Mulligan star as the lovelorn Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan. For Mr. Lurmann's vision, they are perfectly cast. Mr. DiCaprio inhabits the role with snap and polish and a glimmer of danger. Ms. Mulligan brings a luminescence and vulnerability to Daisy. Through Mr. Lurmann's lens, every scene they are in together elevates their very presence.

 Co-starring in this lavish production is Toby Maguire as Nick Carraway and Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan. Mr. Maguire is miscast as Nick. His goofy grin and wide eyed response to everything going on around him becomes increasingly annoying as the film goes on. His purpose as narrator would have been better served had he stayed off camera throughout. Mr Edgerton, on the other hand, is well cast as Tom and brings a strong and menacing aura to the role. Isla Fisher and Jason Clarke have the small but pivotal roles as Myrtle and George Wilson. 

 The fashions, party scenes, and every excess of the period is heightened and unfortunately, lost in this vision is the story. Every nuance of the novel that has been dissected and examined in English classes through the years is lost in the visual excess.

 As with all of Mr. Lurmann's films, you will be swept away by his visual style, strengthened by the chemistry between Mr. DiCaprio and Ms. Mulligan. But to understand what makes this a story for the ages, read the novel.

Saturday, May 04, 2013


      This new Indie drama starring Matthew McConaughey (in a low key performance) is a kind of modern day "Huck Finn". Beside Mr. McConaughey in the title role, the film features a stellar cast including Sarah Paulson, Michael Shannon, Ray McKinnon, Sam Shepard, Paul Sparks and Reese Witherspoon. There is even a cameo from Joe Don Baker.

       While the film is filled with big stars from the Indie film world, two of it's biggest stars are a a pair of young teenage boys, Ty Sheridan as Ellis and Jacob Lofland as Neckbone. It is Ellis and Neckbone that discover Mud hiding out on a small Island on the Mississippi River. Mud, we come to find out is a wanted man trying to reunite with his girlfriend. Ellis is a hopeless romantic and Jacob is a realist but both take a liking to Mud and want to help him for their own reasons.

        It's an original story that meanders its way like the river where it takes place. There are triumphs and disappointments along the way. The acting is first rate but it's Mr. Sheridan in particular that really stands out. He has a long career ahead of him. Mr. McConaughey continues to shine in off kilter roles (see "Killer Joe").  He, along with the film itself, is filled with Southern charm.

Iron Man 3

      Thankfully better than "Iron Man 2" but no comparison to the first film in the series, this third outing is fun for the casual moviegoer but a disappointment for those well read in Iron Man mythology.

       Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark aka Iron Man, along with Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau and Don Cheadle all reprising their roles from the earlier films.  Mr. Favreau is also the executive producer and makes sure his character has a bit more to do in this installment.  As for the villains this time out, we have Sir Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce. Sir Kingsley plays the infamous Mandarin from the pages of Iron Man and for the purists, they will be disappointed in the character's interpretation. He is terrific as always but not in the way you would expect.

       There are excessive jokes, excessive explosions, and literally excessive Iron Men. The film is overstuffed to fulfill it's blockbuster status.  It also features too much Tony Stark and not enough Iron Man.  Many will probably prefer it this way. Director Shane Black has worked with Mr. Downey before and makes the most of his humor and personality.  I would go as far as to categorize the film as a comedy with some heavy duty action sequences thrown in.

        If you've seen the trailers (and how can you miss them), you pretty much know what gets blown up but there are still some surprises in store, so grab your popcorn and settle in for a decent start to the summer movie season.