Sequels are always a delicate thing. On the one hand, everyone wants to see more of a good movie (e.g. The Godfather: Part II and Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle), but on the other, a part of you knows that you're likely to be somehow dissatisfied with the result. Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to 2005's (was it really all those years ago?) Sin City, Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For, follows the same formula and features the same aesthetic, and yet, it seems to be lacking the same magic. Promotional poster for Sin City 2

Who is the dame to kill for, you may be wondering? Why Eva Green, of course. In the role of Ava Lord, a real Circe type, Green makes the most of showing off her body with what essentially amounts to non-stop nudity. After awhile, you stop even noticing those two nipples staring right at you. The film, in fact, centers mostly around her story line, as she reels Dwight back in to supposedly save her from her evil husband. With the sick minds of Rodriguez and writer Frank Miller joining together again, one would have hoped for some even more sadistic shit, but the sequel is decidedly short on disgusting and repulsive imagery (not counting Joseph Gordon-Levitt's fingers getting rearranged). More than that, Clive Owen is noticeably missing in the role of Dwight. Are we really just supposed to go along with Josh Brolin as his replacement? I don't fucking think so.

Eva Green as Ava Lord: a dame people kill for

Among other plotlines, Marv (Mickey Rourke) returns to start fights whenever possible, as beating the shit out of people is his primary passion in life. Plus, what else is there to do in Sin City if you're not bashing someone's face in out of frustration? Joining forces with Dwight and Nancy (Jessica Alba, also reprising her role) at different points in the story, Marv seems to serve more as the muscle in the script rather than someone with a worthwhile personal journey of his own (guess they gave that to him enough in the first film). The character of Johnny, however (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), presents one of the most intriguing tales and gets one of the more minimal amounts of screen time. As the bastard child of Senator Roarke (Powers Booth), Johnny has a gift for gambling that he uses against Roarke in a private poker game. Winning the game ends up costing him a few good limbs--and one good dame.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the beleaguered Johnny

Though Johnny isn't the only new character introduced into the mix, the other ones, like Joey (Ray Liotta) and Sally (Juno Temple) or Mort (Christopher Maloney) and Bob (Jeremy Piven), have such marginal, brief vignettes within the larger picture that there's nothing really compelling about watching them. Even a cameo from Lady Gaga, which should be, if nothing else, mildly entertaining, errs on the side of dull and inane.

Jessica Alba in a look inspired by Edward Scissorhands

While the pacing of Sin City 2 is definitely slower than its predecessor, it still feels like it has the high-octane energy you would find from a Quentin Tarantino movie--but it simply doesn't have the conviction. Whether it's because too much time has passed since the first one or it just doesn't have the charisma that Clive Owen brings to every film, Sin City 2 fails to achieve the same level of awe-inspiring reverence. Yeah, it's good and yeah there's still tits and violence galore--which is what we demand from Rodriguez and in general--but that's really about all you can say about it.

 

 

As someone who has already played an emotionless alien earlier this year, there may be no better actress suited to the role of an all-knowing stoic than Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson's Lucy. Like most Besson films, Lucy takes place in an "exotic" location--Taipei (a location portrayed in a manner that fortifies Tao Lin's decision to write his most depressing novel with this city as the backdrop and title). For some reason, our eponymous heroine is living there and dating a douche bag drug runner named Richard (Pilou Asbæk) who handcuffs a suitcase to her hand when she refuses to go in place of him to drop it off to Mr. Jang (Min-sik Choi), a notorious drug lord. Channeling

Upon fearfully entering the hotel room to gain an audience with Mr. Jang, a group of his lackeys comes down to greet her by shooting Richard as he watches from outside and then taking her up to Jang's room by force. Panicked and uncertain, Lucy imagines the worst when she sees the carnage Jang has already inflicted based on the body pile in his hotel room. After a translator instructs Lucy to open the suitcase handcuffed to her wrist via phone, Jang is pleased to find that the contents are bags of synthetic CH4, commonly delivered to fetuses in pregnancy for growth and development, but only in very minimal doses. When tested on one of their random addicts on hold in the hotel room, his reaction is delirium and euphoria, quickly negated by Jang's impromptu decision to shoot him.

Scarlett Johansson's expression for most of Lucy

Jang's translator then tells Lucy that the cold-blooded killer has a job for her. When she says she doesn't want a job, she finds herself waking up in a hotel room with her stomach freshly stitched together after being cut open so that Jang's henchmen could insert a bag of CH4 into her stomach in order for her to smuggle it through airport security (though with them body scanners these days, I don't really see how that's possible). Somewhere along the way, Lucy ends up in a holding cell where her captors not only try to rape her, but also kick her in the stomach, causing the CH4 to rip open and spread throughout her body--which imbues her with superior knowledge of everything, hence the Limitless comparisons.

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Interspersed throughout the story are lectures from esteemed professor Samuel Norman (Morgan Freeman), who argues that if a human could tap into even 20% of his or her brain's capacity, complete control over one's body could be achieved (even though I kind of already thought most people do have control over their body, which just goes to show that I'm only accessing 10% of my brain). The only other species capable of doing this is, unsurprisingly, dolphins.

By the time Lucy has reached over 50% brain capacity, she can do just about anything

What is surprising, however, is that instead of seeking vengeance upon Jang once she goes to the hospital and gets her stomach emptied of the CH4 bag, she merely stabs him in both hands and accesses his memory to see where the other drug mules have gone so she can get the rest of the product for herself. It's a very zen attitude, if you think about it. With her new mission being to collect the remaining three bags and use them on herself for Professor Norman's continued research, Lucy has found her purpose within the minimal amount of hours she has left to survive at the rate her brain is expanding.

Promotional poster for Lucy

At times, Lucy can veer on the somewhat trite side, for example, with parallels between Lucy and the first bipedal human, which scientists dubbed Lucy when the skeletal remains were discovered in 1974. Nonetheless, Besson has always been a seasoned writer-director when it comes to making his films both entertaining and thought-provoking--not to mention that his soundtrack choices never fail to impress, Damon Albarn being a case in point on this particular film.

 

Perhaps the only place in the world with a higher concentration of mafiosos than Southern Italy is New York City. In the early 1990s, warring crime families were preoccupied with power, glory and, above all, gold jewelry. Director Raymond De Felitta, no stranger to stories centering around New York-Italians, sheds light on a latter day Bonnie and Clyde named Tommy and Rosemarie Uva, two small-time crooks from Ozone Park, Queens (though in the movie, they're from the Bronx and Queens, respectively) who unexpectedly find a way to rob and take down the mob. Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda as Tommy and Rosemarie Uva, channeling a mafioso look of their own

Stylized in a way that requires far more attractive people to play the Uvas, Michael Pitt and Nina Arianda embody the roles of the passionate couple to an artfully artless level of perfection. After spending eighteen months in prison for robbing a flower shop, Tommy gets out to find that Rosemarie has stopped doing drugs and gotten "a real job" at a collection agency. Somewhat inspired by her newfound nobility, Tommy tries to emulate her by also getting a job at the same place. His attention is drawn away from the boredom and soullessness of asking people to pay up by the pomp and circumstance of the John Gotti trial.

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Fascinated and repelled by the mafia because they killed his father after he couldn't pay them back for a loan, Tommy is drawn to the trial, where he hears Sammy the Bull's testimony against Gotti. Although the trial is open to the public, it seems as though Tommy is the only outsider interested enough to show up. His interest is further piqued when Sammy the Bull not only gives the addresses of several mafia social clubs, but also mentions that none of the "wiseguys" there are allowed to bring guns. An idea quickly brews in Tommy's head, prompting him to lure Rosie back into another brief flirtation with a life of crime.

The real Tommy and Rosemarie

Tommy's get rich quick scheme? Knock off the unsuspecting mafia members in the social clubs throughout New York. He promises Rosie that once they get enough money to get ahead, they'll stop and go back to living on the level. But, of course, the temptation of the cash proves too great to stop. As the two continue to gain notoriety not only among the crime families of NYC, including the boss, Big Al (played somewhat unconvincingly by Andy Garcia), the media and FBI begin to take notice as well. One reporter in particular, Jerry Cardozo (Ray Romano), highlights their story as one of human interest, and even goes so far as to get involved in promoting their well-being by purchasing them plane tickets to Mexico so they can escape the inevitable hit that's going to be taken out on them.

Robbing the mob

As his first major script, screenwriter Jonathan Fernandez does a precise job of setting the backdrop for a time in New York that people have a tendency to forget about (P.S. "Groove is in the Heart by Deee-Lite" is the perfect choice for establishing the tone for said time at the beginning of the film), as they're often too busy thinking about the 1980s or the years leading up to 9/11. But the inception of the 90s holds a very specific sort of untapped allure. New York was experiencing so many palpable changes and transitions (David Dinkins being one of the main ones). And this is a large part of what makes Rob the Mob so endearing: Its specificity...and yeah, the tragic love story element.

 

 

 

Although the sequel movie is usually always an entity that feels forced, directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller--who also directed 21 Jump Street--have managed to highlight this fact to their advantage. With 22 Jump Street, the awkward yet somehow magical chemistry between Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill continues to blossom, reviving the bromance genre that had seemed to be missing for a brief period from the movie theater. Promotional poster for 22 Jump Street

Picking up where Ice Cube left off, Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) enroll in local college MC State to infiltrate yet another drug dealer/supplier situation--though at first they dabble in an online college called University of Internet. The drug they're after is called whyphy (as in wi-fi) and works to keep you focused for the first portion of the high, and then make you trip significant balls during the final part. Jenko and Schmidt hone in on a tattoo in a photograph of the drug changing hands and end up focusing all of their energy on a football player named Zook (Wyatt Russell), who is also a source of friction in the bromance between the two of them.

Two lovers.

One night, when they're being kidnapped as fraternity pledges by Zook, Jenko and Schmidt end up accidentally taking whyphy after eating some special treats baked by their roommates, twins named Kenny and Keith (The Lucas Brothers) who constantly say the same thing at the same time. In one of the most hilarious scenes of the movie, the duo shares a very different tripping experience--Jenko having a pleasant one characterized by driving a baby Lamborghini and Schmidt having one that involves dark rain clouds and Creed playing in the background.

The requisite explosions of a sequel

Screenwriter Michael Bacall (who also worked on the boyish films Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Project X) makes a consistent point throughout the film to mock the nature of the sequel. Referencing the fact that the new address where the secret Jump Street headquarters is now located is bigger, better and more expensive, Bacall makes a connection with the audience through his referential dialogue. And, because of the ever-increasing jadedness of filmgoers, Bacall is shrewd in employing this method.

Hijinks

As for the frequent gay allusions (which are really too overt to be considered allusions), it gets a bit tiresome at times, but I suppose is intended to keep the Midwestern demographic interested. The conclusion of 22 Jump Street is typically bombastic, but what makes it all truly worth the watch is the clip show of subsequent sequels showing Jenko and Schmidt in different school settings (dance school, beauty school, martial arts school, culinary school, etc.). Whether or not this means there will actually be a third installment remains to be seen.

 

How does any bad bitch become that way? Having her heart broken, of course. In Disney's latest re-imagining of one of their own characters, screenwriter Linda Woolverton (no stranger to Disney after penning the screenplays for Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King) humanizes Maleficent as never before. Played by the drag queen who was always meant to lend her that humanity, Angelina Jolie, Robert Stromberg directs her in a way that blends just the right amount of charisma and bitchery. Hardened.

Contrary to popular belief, evil isn't born, it is created by trying circumstances (you know, like Hitler). Maleficent begins innocently enough as a fairy, separated from the rival kingdom next to hers. She knows nothing of the human world and has no interest in it until a thieving boy named Stefan steps into her territory. After talking to him--and both discovering that neither one has parents--the two bond almost instantly. Maleficent cautions him against coming back, and he shakes her hand, accidentally searing it with his iron ring. She then makes the mistake of revealing her Achilles' heel to him: iron fucks her up.

Elle Fanning as Aurora/Sleeping Beauty

As Stefan grows older, he becomes more concerned with worldly acquisitions and power, especially power. He has less time to spare for Maleficent, who focuses on ensuring the safety of her domain. After the dying king of the human world announces he'll give the throne to whoever can take down Maleficent, Stefan quickly forgets about any sentiment he ever had for the fairy queen (no gay man reference meant toward Jolie here), drugs her and clips off her wings. Maleficent awakens feeling expectedly violated. After she collects her bearings, however, she is able to concentrate wholly on hate and vengeance. She transmutes into the "Queen of All Evil."

Stoic.

Collecting a crow friend, Diaval (Sam Riley), that she turns into a human in order to save from being beaten, Maleficent is able to gather intelligence from her little spy. She gleans that Stefan stripped her of her wings to become king and is soon about to have a child. She quells her rage long enough to get it together to crash the baby's, Aurora (Fanning), coming out party. The three nitwit fairies, Flora, Fauna and Merryweather are also given an upgrade as slightly more attractive pixies named Flittle, Knotgrass and Thistlewit. Their attendance at the fete is interrupted by Maleficent's cursing of Aurora. A nod to Rumpelstiltskin is given when she stipulates that Aurora will prick her finger on a spinning wheel spindle and resultantly be sent into a death-like sleep for all of eternity. Maleficent coldly adds that only "true love's kiss" can break the spell, a clause she adds deliberately to get at Stefan, who once told her that her sixteenth birthday present was his own true love's kiss.

Illuminati vibes

Panicked, Stefan takes measures to protect his daughter by sending her away with the pixies. Maleficent watches over Aurora carefully, eventually growing attached to the girl, much to her annoyance. It is ultimately their platonic love that breaks the spell Maleficent had wrongly cast over Aurora. Not only does Woolverton show us that we've become so cynical as an audience that we can't find traditional representations of true love to be palatable, but she also reveals that maybe romantic love isn't as important or fulfilling as it used to be. And in this way, Maleficent is something truly unique in the Disney canon.

When you want to cast a film that's at all related to the mafia, you always go to Robert DeNiro. Luc Besson's most recent movie, The Family (alternately called the more sonorous Malavita) highlights the aftermath of a family whose patriarch, Giovanni Manzoni (DeNiro), has snitched on his crime boss. As a result, Manzoni and his family are placed under the careful watch of the witness protection program, led by FBI agent Robert Stansfield (Tommy Lee Jones). Looking real mafioso.

Based on French crime writer Tonino Benacquista's novel Malavita, The Family is positioned as more of a farcical take on life after the mafia. That is to say, since escaping the clutches of gangsters is nearly impossible, life for the newly renamed Blake family is largely dull--especially since they also hate French people and are likewise hated by them. After moving from their secret location on the French Riviera, Agent Stansfield moves the Blakes to a small town in Normandy that Giovanni's wife, Maggie (Michelle Pfeiffer), daughter, Belle (Diana Agron), and son, Warren (John D'Leo), all instantly loathe.

http://youtu.be/nwZNypYmPFE

As each family member tries to navigate their new banal lives in the countryside, the imprisoned crime boss that Giovanni wronged grows closer and closer to tracking him down. With so little to do to occupy their time, Giovanni begins writing a confessional memoir of his time in the mafia, Maggie tries to fill her time by shopping at supermarkets that only sell ingredients she hates (they're not Italian enough), Belle pursues a crush on her math teacher and Warren causes trouble at school by finding every student's weak point.

Maggie blows up the supermarket after some French people make fun of the cuisine Americans eat.

The neuroses of the family continue to reach a crescendo in terms of how they react to undesirable situations--generally through violence. Although Giovanni has toned down his murderous tendencies, he still fantasizes about beating the shit out of people, and even actually does it to the town's only plumber when he tries to give Giovanni the run around about the true cause behind why his faucet water is coming out brown.

Bored.

There is also a meta moment when one of Giovanni's neighbors invites him to speak at a monthly film society, wherein Goodfellas is screened. Incidentally, the 2010 English translation of Benacquista's novel was called Badfellas. As The Family reaches its typically Besson denouement (that is to say, laden with plenty of carnage), you start to realize how much fun you've had watching the plot unfold--Besson rarely disappoints in giving his audiences a good time.

 

Much in the way of laudatory comments has been said about Gravity: Great cinematography, innovative approach to screenwriting, et cetera et cetera. So maybe I’m missing something, because, after seeing the film, the only thing I wanted to do was crawl into a hole in my apartment and never emerge again. For that is the feeling that Gravity gives you: If you leave your house, let alone venture into the lawlessness of space, you will be fucked. Apart from the anxiety of watching Sandra Bullock hyperventilate for the majority of the film, the lack of plot, dialogue or scenic variety is enough to make you go slowly insane. So, without further verbal disdain, here are six things I’d rather do besides ever see Gravity again. Promotional poster for Gravity

6) Read Gravity’s Rainbow, a book everyone claims to have read (much like Infinite Jest) but never actually has.

At least reading this meant I read a book.

5) Hang out with Major Nelson from I Dream of Jeannie (even though he seems like a real stick in the mud).

I'd rather hear Major Nelson talk about space than see Sandy B get stuck in it

4) Watch the entire The Facts of Life series.

George looks much better without a space suit on.

3) Spend an hour and a half doing my hair like Princess Leia.

Time-consuming, but timeless.

2) Sit through Speed 2: Cruise Control

At least you can play better drinking games when you watch this.

1) Risk a conversation with Alfonso Cuaron to talk about making a sequel to Y Tu Mama Tambien

Salacious dialogue is preferable to listening to Sandra Bullock howl

And there they are, six more useful, less mental disorder-inducing activities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With a cast consisting of actors like Michael Caine, Jesse Eisenberg, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo, one would think that Now You See Me would be foolproof regardless of story. But then again, the fact that a robust roster of talent can’t buttress the flimsy plot of the film proves that artful screenwriting should never be sacrificed to make room for an insane casting budget. Louis Leterrier (best known for directing The Transporter film series) directs Ed Solomon (big up for writing Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey) and Boaz Yakin's (also big up for writing Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights) script with the ease and dexterity of someone accustomed to action and thriller movies. Nonetheless, the lack of character objectives and holes in plot logic make one wish Solomon and Yakin had collaborated to make Bill & Ted’s Gnarly Expedition instead. The "Four Horsemen"

After four second-rate magicians, Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco), are brought together by an anonymous benefactor, the quartet forms a Las Vegas show backed by insurance magnate Arthur Tressler (Michael Caine). Their "magic" is called into question by FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) when they supposedly teleport an audience member to a Parisian bank so that he can steal the money in the vault to give back to the audience. Also involved in investigating the case is Interpol agent Alma Dray (Melanie Laurent), who has never worked a case away from the desk before. Their vague attraction--which I guess is supposed to come across as electric, but seems more fizzling than anything else--is interrupted by the mentalist ways of Merritt, who says he's picking up some father and abandonment issues on Dylan's end. With no physical proof of the robbery, Dylan is forced to release them, even though they essentially admit they're going to do it again.

http://youtu.be/4OtM9j2lcUA

At their next performance, which has attracted an even higher profile in the wake of all their publicity, the foursome ends up duping their own patron, stealing upwards of 140 million dollars from Arthur Tressler's bank account. The audience members who receive the funds all have one thing in common: Each person's claim was rejected by Tressler's insurance company. Enraged by their betrayal, Tressler enlists the help of magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman). Once a magician himself, Bradley profits from exposing other magicians' secrets, including the famed Lionel Shrike, whom he so embarrassed in proving his magic to be a stunt, that Shrike took on an impossible underwater trick and ended up drowning. It's one of those back stories that makes you think, "Hmmm, I wonder when this seemingly insignificant tidbit will be revisited again..."

http://youtu.be/IabbLlLUekA

The answer is, not until much later in the story after you're left wondering why it takes the movie almost a full two hours to get to its point--which you're still not entirely sure of. Maybe the power of vengeance/vengeance is a dish best served cold is the primary theme. But watching Kill Bill Vol. 1 is all you'll ever need to sit through to truly understand such a delicate motif. Still, it would seem that Now You See Me is well-liked--or at least financially beneficial--enough to have warranted an upcoming sequel. Perhaps by then, the story will have figured out what it's trying to say.

 

I will say this for Nick Frost and Simon Pegg: They loathe homogeneity. With The World’s End, the dastardly duo has completed a trilogy of films (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz preceding) aimed at comparing the current human race to some form of drone. In Shaun of the Dead it was zombies, in Hot Fuzz it was homicidal townspeople killing anyone who didn’t comply with their ideal of perfection. The World’s End bears a bit more similarity to Hot Fuzz in that Gary King (Pegg) and Andy Knightley (Frost) return to their childhood town, Newton Haven, to find it has been taken over by a group of “peaceable” robots. Promotional poster for The World's End

A bit more macabre in terms of characterization, The World’s End begins with Gary narrating the events of the best night of his life, June 22, 1990, from his AA group. On this magical night in question, he and his four best friends, Andy, Peter (Eddie Marsan), Oliver (Martin Freeman) and Steven (Paddy Considine), attempted tackling a pub crawl of twelve pubs known as the Golden Mile. As teenagers, the quintet failed, ultimately going their separate ways—though Gary did manage to shag Oliver’s sister, Sam (Rosamund Pike), at one point during the evening as a consolation prize. Finishing his grand tale, one of his fellow rehab members asks, “Were you disappointed that you never finished it?” Realizing that completing the Golden Mile is his only life’s ambition, he gathers his old friends together to finish the job.

Holding the map of The Golden Mile

Andy, the most reluctant to have come on this jaunt, is duped into it after Gary tells him his mother died recently. The others are along for the ride for old time’s sake, doing what they always did best: Follow Gary’s lead. From the moment Gary picks them up in his ancient car, The Beast, the emphasis of the film becomes about the music of their adolescence. Blaring the quintessential Britpop song, “There’s No Other Way” by Blur, Gary solidifies his status as the eternal youth, plagued by arrested development. The soundtrack then segues into “I’m Free” by The Soup Dragons. This song sets the tone for the entire theme of The World’s End, which is, no one can tell humans what to do. Plus, there’s Happy Mondays songs galore, presaging the act of “twisting the melon.”

http://youtu.be/n__1Y-N5tQk

Punctuating the motif of cookie cutter sameness, director Edgar Wright also made it a point to take plenty of jibes at the globalization, so to speak, of pub culture. For the most part, all the charm and quirkiness of British pubs have been drained in favor of the Starbucks model. Maybe that’s also why one of the pubs serves the gang pints of Foster’s, prompting the question: What self-respecting Brit—let alone Aussie—would drink Aussie beer? In any case, Wright succeeds in driving home his point with every pub they walk into.

http://youtu.be/Fe5ErGtci80

While, of course, the beautiful combination of Pegg, Frost and Wright can do no wrong as far as this viewer is concerned, it isn’t quite in the same thermosphere as their past projects, Spaced included. The real test of this trio’s genius lies in branching out to a new genre, preferably a tragic love story as opposed to a comedic horror one. Perhaps in the next trilogy.

 

 

It goes without saying that any movie about post-World War II Los Angeles is going to be rife with violence and a noir aura (e.g L.A. Confidential, The Black Dahlia, et. al.). With Ruben Fleischer's (best known for Zombieland) Gangster Squad, however, there is a level of heroism and nobility that makes the amount of gruesome gore somehow necessary--if not somewhat cartoonish (think Dick Tracy).

Former boxer and Jewish friend to the Italian criminal underworld, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), has viciously climbed his way to the top in Los Angeles, or what he calls "the wild fucking west." Our introduction to Cohen is none too delicate as he has a man literally ripped in half by two cars pulling away in opposite directions. The only person who seems to have an interest in thwarting Cohen from total domination is Sergeant John O'Mara (the always sexily stoic Josh Brolin). Frequently chastised for his insubordination, going after Cohen is just the latest in a series of O'Mara's efforts to clean up the city.

Slightly more cynical than O'Mara is Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling--pause for swoon), who has largely given up on the concept of what it means to a police officer. His main habits are centered around drinking and hitting on dames, particularly Cohen's dame, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone, who really isn't curvaceous enough to embody the 1940s female archetype), as it were.

As Cohen's criminal activities become increasingly pervasive, the Chief of Police, Bill Parker (Nick Nolte, who looks like he's been made up just as heavily as Sean Penn for this role--but isn't), enlists O'Mara's skills (based on his army and police profile) to build an undercover squad to take down Cohen. O'Mara's pregnant wife, Connie (The Killing's Mireille Enos, who kind of looks like an older version of Ellen Pompeo), is instantly disillusioned by the notion of watching her husband put himself willingly in the crossfire. She concedes to let him go through with the mission, however, so long as she can select the members of the team.

Among the recruits are former detective Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), an acolyte of Kennard's whose name is compared to a burlesque dancer, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), a rough cop who takes the law into his own hands on the Central beat, and the brains of the outfit, Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), a former intelligence officer during the war. Once the team has been assembled, the "Gangster Squad" moves quickly into action, hitting Cohen where it hurts by taking down several of his casino operations.

http://youtu.be/qilrVR0miPU

In spite of impeding some of what Cohen views as "progress," it isn't enough to stop him, especially once Keeler learns that Cohen plans to control the only telecommunications wire in the west coast. With more and more blood being shed to stop him, Keeler begins to question whether or not the Gangster Squad is really any different from Cohen. As the film continues to explore the concept of evil and immorality, and how it can often unwittingly transmute from the seed of a good cause, it becomes clear that--even to achieve a greater good--there must often be some unethical carnage.

The cartoonish, over the top nature of the 40s gangster aesthetic is played up to perfection by cinematographer Dion Beebe (whose work on Nine and Miami Vice proves her flare undeniably). With the debauched city of Los Angeles to complement the nitty grittiness of the story, the movie is most notable for the visual (and not just Ryan Gosling). It also gives one a semi-accurate snapshot of how Sean Penn must have been acting during his marriage to Madonna.

 

By Soot-Case Murphy

“I can’t speak on it ’cause I’m not gonna see it. All I’m going to say is that it’s disrespectful to my ancestors. That’s just me…I’m not speaking on behalf of anybody else.” – Spike Lee, on Django Unchained

“Kill all the white man.” – NOFX

I can't hear you, Spike.

I can't hear you over the sound of whips cracking and Luis Bacalov's spaghetti saucy theme for the original Django filling the halls of the audience's ears, ushering Quentin Tarantino's newest film, Django Unchained, into long-awaiting hearts.

I can't hear you over the subtlety and "speak softly and carry a boomstick" method employed exceptionally by Jamie Foxx as the title character, or the lip-smacking lust for the English language employed by Cristolph Waltz as bounty hunter Dr. King Shultz, who takes Django under his wing.

I can't hear you over the gun shots that turn human bodies into water balloons full of flesh and blood.

I can't hear you over the sound of roaring, malicious laughter at the sight of high body counts and when listening to inspired jokes about Southerners.

I can't hear you over the silent gratitude by fellow slaves (the ancestors that are "disrespected") as they look upon Django fulfilling each others deep-seated fantasies.

I can't hear you over Tarantino's pure love for the game.

I can't hear you over the audience getting their kicks at the sight of vicious slave owners like Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio) getting what they deserve, even if they could never bring to do it themselves.

I can't hear over the fact that Tarantino has finally made a movie about the black man he always saw within himself. After all, it's one of his trademarks. From Christian Slater in True Romance to his own turns in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and  From Dusk Til Dawn, he's always seen a tough, burly man beneath his own doughy surface.

I can't hear you over Tarantino's expert execution of the tropes audiences identify with him. Dinner never seemed more intense.

I can't hear you over the new music from Ennio Morricone and RZA that compete against the thundering action for the audience's attention.

I can't hear you over Robert Richardson's lush peeks into the former wild west.

I can't hear you over the fact that Tarantino, after many attempts, has finally made the exploitation movie he'd been dreaming of since his childhood.

I can, however, hear the envy in your voice. After all, Tarantino's bringing in the audiences you attempt to reach out to, but haven't been able to for a very long time.

Your revolution is not over, Mr. Lee, but condolences. You lost this one.

 

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AuthorSoot-Case Murphy

Killing Them Softly makes it official that writer-director Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt (no title needed) should always collaborate together. Based on a 1974 crime novel by George V. Higgins called Cogan's Trade, Killing Them Softly is transformed into a gangster story with the tumultuous political setting of 2008 as the backdrop. The film follows the sketchy life of Frankie (Scoot McNairy, who has the voice of Mark Wahlberg and who you hopefully know—but probably don’t—from 2010’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss) as he struggles to make a living in the crime underworld. The fact that even criminals are suffering in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis is just one of the many ways that illustrates, to quote hitman Jackie Cogan (Brad Pitt), “America is fucked.”

As Frankie sets out to meet a shyster-type gangster named Johnny “Squirrel” Amato (Vincent Curatola), one of Obama’s campaign speeches plays in a disjointed manner in the background, setting the tone for the fragmented and polarized nature of the United States at this moment in time. The point is solidified as Frankie walks past a billboard with John McCain and Obama ads right next to each other—proving that the only real motive in politics is getting the same amount of exposure.

On the way to Squirrel’s, Frankie meets up with his friend and fellow criminal, Russell (Ben Mendelsohn, who also showcased his knack for crime dramas by appearing in 2011’s Killer Elite). Slightly less put together than Frankie, Russell is an overt junkie with a slew of harebrained schemes, the current one being selling purebred dogs. In spite of knowing that Russell isn’t exactly the most silver-tongued when it comes to representing himself, Frankie takes him to meet with Squirrel, who immediately hates his irreverence. Russell then fucks off to have sex with a prostitute (whose attractiveness he describes as, “I wouldn’t rape her, but the plumbing still works.”) while Frankie listens to Squirrel’s latest moneymaking proposition. The heist involves a poker game run by Markie Trattman (Ray Liotta, because, honestly, what would a gangster movie be without him?), who, several years prior, set up one of his poker games to get robbed and then drunkenly admitted it to his fellow crime bosses during a private card game. The crime bosses laugh it off and allow bygones to be bygones, but another fuck-up from Markie will assuredly signal his demise.

And so, with this in mind, Squirrel promises Frankie that if they rob Markie’s next poker game, Markie will undeniably be the one to take the fall for it. Feeling confident, Frankie gets Squirrel’s permission to use Russell as his partner. In costumes evoking the ghetto times of 2008, Russell and Frankie roll up to the poker game wearing rubber gloves on their hands and much too tight trouser socks over their heads. While Frankie aims his gun at the poker players, Russell leads Markie into the back to get the money. As he reluctantly hands Russell the suitcases, Markie urges him to reconsider, promising that if he goes through with this robbery, he will most certainly die. Russell appears briefly tempted to oblige—indicating his somewhat dubious loyalty—but then ends up leaving with the money without incident.

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Not wanting to be tied to the robbery in any way, Russell and Frankie part ways for awhile, leaving the mafia bosses to investigate with their own cruel methods. Enter Jackie Cogan, a ruthless, old school hitman, who, ironically, says that he prefers to kill people softly—meaning from a quick, painless distance so they don’t know it’s about to happen. Enlisted by a button-down, obsequious in-between referred to only as Driver (Richard Jenkins), Jackie tracks down the true masterminds behind the robbery after Russell’s friend, Kenny Gill (Slaine, you know, the rapper), mentions that Russell had been bragging to him on their way down to Florida about the crime he recently got away with.

Now knowing who to target, Jackie insists to Driver on the need for an additional hitman, preferably a classic go-to by the name of Mickey (James Gandolfini, yet another actor that no gangster movie is complete without). Driver grudgingly agrees based on Mickey’s reduced price (fifteen grand) and gives Jackie the approval to kill Squirrel, Frankie, Russell and Markie (who has to be killed in order to restore faith in any high-stakes poker game).

When Mickey arrives in town, Jackie is less than pleased to see that he’s become an alcoholic hot mess. As they sit at a hotel bar discussing their plan, Mickey continuously chastises their waiter for his slowness at bringing the drinks. The waiter apologizes, citing that they are short-staffed (another indication of the recession and inability for businesses to afford hiring people). Jackie, already irritated with Mickey’s self-pitying sob stories (his wife wants to leave him and he recently had to be bailed out of jail for a felonious gun possession charge), begins to grow concerned over the success of the job.

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Jackie quickly realizes that he’s going to have to handle everything himself  as even the mafia’s usual go-to hitman, Dillon (Sam Shepard, yeah the playwright/Patti Smith’s ex), has been killed—proving Frankie’s recently acquired belief that “The world is just shit. We’re all on our own.” With Mickey as an added liability, Jackie arranges for him to get in a fight with a prostitute so he’ll be charged for violating the terms of his bail. Everything comes to a culmination on election night as Jackie goes to meet Driver in a bar and resolve the final matter of his payment.

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As Obama makes his acceptance speech espousing the concept that every American is capable of achieving his dreams, Jackie spurns the idea, telling Driver that Thomas Jefferson is the asshole responsible for making us believe that “all men are created equal.” The reality, of course, is that all wealthy people were created equal. Jackie’s unyielding commitment to this idea is solidified when Driver tells him that the mafia bosses are paying him a “recession price” fee for the services rendered. In one of the most biting, salient and abrupt lines in cinema history, Jackie responds, “America’s not a country. It’s a business. Now fuckin’ pay me.”

Opening on a tight shot of the Hollywood sign and a pan down to Michael Pitt waiting by the Silver Lake Reservoir—two symbols that set the tone for all senses of foreboding—Martin McDonagh’s third feature, Seven Psychopaths, is at once self-aware and unexpected. Known as one of the premier Irish playwrights, McDonagh’s approach to filmmaking and screenwriting is decidedly cerebral. His previous two films, Six Shooter and In Bruges (also starring Colin Farrell) seem, in retrospect, to be leading up to the daring and deviant narrative of Seven Psychopaths.

Like all denizens of L.A., (no, literally all of them), Marty (Farrell) is working on a screenplay. The only thing he knows for sure about it, however, is that it’s going to be called Seven Psychopaths (are you picking up on that self-aware element I mentioned before?). Marty’s challenges in writing the script are twofold: 1) He’s an alcoholic and 2) He wants the film to have a “life-affirming” message in spite of its subject(s). His best friend, an out of work actor/dog thief named Billy Bickle (the ideal typecast for generally crazy Sam Rockwell, whose last name in the movie is hopefully a nod to Taxi Driver), offers to help him write the movie, even pointing out a story to him in the paper about the Jack of Diamonds killer—known for only killing high-level members of organized crime.

Immediately intrigued by the concept, Marty begins writing the Jack of Diamonds killer in as one of the seven psychopaths, in addition to the two killers he already has in mind: A Quaker (the indubitably creepy Harry Dean Stanton) stalking the murderer of his daughter and a Vietnamese priest (Long Nguyen) seeking vengeance for his country by strapping dynamite on a prostitute and blowing up a hotel. In spite of his increased enthusiasm for the project, Marty’s disapproving girlfriend, Kaya (Abbie Cornish, who gets to keep her Australian accent in this movie), remains unimpressed and annoyed by Marty’s career path. Billy, meanwhile, has no problem constantly expressing what a cunt she is to Marty. Their relationship is finally forced to a close when Marty drunkenly calls Kaya a bitch at a party in front of all their friends.

Too blacked out to remember doing so, Marty has no idea why he finds himself waking up to a shih tzu licking his face in Billy’s apartment. The shih tzu in question belongs to a deranged crime boss named Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), and is merely one in a series of dogs Billy has stolen with his partner, Hans Kieslowski (Christopher Walken, wearing a cravat throughout most of the story that I hope inspires a comeback for the once forgotten accessory). Though their scheme to claim the reward after returning each of the dogs has always been seamless in the past, Charlie catches on to their strategy after nearly killing his dog walker, Sharice (Gabourey Sribe, who hasn’t seemed to breakout from the Precious stigma in terms of being condemned for her weight) before they can attempt to return Bonny--though we later realize that this was Billy’s plan all along, who has been secretly dating Charlie’s girlfriend, Angela (Olga Kurylenko, a former model with memorable roles in Paris, Je T’aime and Quantum of Solace), making him privy to just how valuable the dog is to Charlie.

As increasing layers of psychopathy are revealed, we eventually learn that Billy is the Jack of Diamonds killer, and has orchestrated the entire dog-napping to set off this particular chain of events so that Marty could gain true insight into what it means to be a psychopath (it’s psychopathically brilliant, isn’t it?). The third act then shifts into an entirely different form of narrative, becoming more about the analysis of how Marty’s movie should end—meaning Seven Psychopaths itself (meta). Among the ranks of The Player and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Seven Psychopaths turns the genre it explores on its ear and leaves you reeling in the best possible way. And then, of course, there is the sardonic use of “The First Cut is the Deepest,” making it automatically impossible not to love.

It’s almost unfathomable to think that the James Bond franchise has generated a total of twenty-three films about the roguishly charming British spy, Skyfall being the twenty-third. With the clout of Sam Mendes (famed for American Beauty) and the cool, collected aura of Daniel Craig as Bond, Skyfall is a simultaneously subtle and overt exploration of, for lack of a better term, mother issues.

Mendes, known for his sweeping, extended action scenes (see: Jarhead) opens the film in an unusual manner, almost as though it were in medias res, as Bond sets out on a chase for someone who stole a hard drive containing the names of every undercover NATO agent working within various terrorist organizations. The chase leads him to the top of a train car as he battles it out with the hard drive thief, Patrice (Ola Rapace, yes, he's married to Noomi Rapace). All the while, Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, who you recognize from Pirates of the Caribbean as Tia Dalma) follows him from the sidelines awaiting instruction from the ubiquitous M (Judi Dench, as delightfully irreverent as ever) during this hair-raising snafu. As the tussle heightens, M insists that Eve take aim with her gun, regardless of the risk she runs in hitting Bond instead. Hesitantly, Eve takes the shot, causing Bond to fall off the train after the bullet hits him and land in a raging waterfall that segues into the ethereal title sequences and accompanying Adele track, “Skyfall” (I admire the Bond franchise’s ability to always get the main song on the soundtrack to share the same name as the movie—“The World is Not Enough” and “Die Another Day” being personal favorites).

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Bond, of course, survives the bullet and finds himself living island life bliss with a steady girl to fuck and no shortage of drinking games to play. It is not until he sees a news report of a recent bombing of MI6 headquarters that he is shook out of his state of relaxation. Knowing that M is going to need him now more than ever, Bond comes out of his death retirement to help her. When he appears in her apartment, M acts as though she’s been expecting him all along, and gets down to the business of setting him up for his physical and psychological exams. Visibly affected by his gunshot wound, Bond has difficulty with grip strength and stamina, not to mention his psychological analysis. During a series of word associations, the doctor brings up the word “Skyfall,” to which Bond replies, “Done” and promptly gets up from his chair to leave. The meaning and emotional weight of Skyfall does not become clear until the third act, when Bond is left no choice but to return to his childhood home in Scotland, an estate called Skyfall.

With Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee, breathing down M’s next to get the hard drive back before the list of undercover agents is decoded, M ignores the fact that Bond has failed all of his tests and lies to both Mallory and Bond about his preparedness to return to the field. In the meantime, M continues to receive threatening messages from the person in possession of the list, warning her that five names a week will be released to the public and that M is advised to “think on [her] sins.” Puzzled as to who could be behind it all, Bond (conveniently) extracts some shrapnel from his chest that he gives to the evidence lab. The shrapnel traces to back to Patrice, who Bond was battling at the beginning of the story, and allows him to track Patrice to another operation he’s performing in Shanghai, the most surreal place ever other than inside of a Dali painting. Once Bond corners Patrice after he takes a hit out on his target from a building across the way, Bond dangles him from the ledge, attempting to get him to reveal who his primary employer is, but his hand strength is too diminished to keep holding on, thus letting Patrice fall to his death. The woman who witnessed the murder in the building across from Bond, Sévérine (Bérénice Lim Marlohe), regards him somewhat lustfully before Bond disappears with a casino chip he found on Patrice that leads him to Macau.

Alone in his hotel room, Bond is startled when, in the midst of close shaving, Eve knocks on his door. The chemistry between them is undeniable (though the chemistry between Bond and anyone with a vagina is usually undeniable) as she explains that she’s been sent as support for his mission and offers to help him shave, commenting mockingly on his old school ways—yet another theme of Skyfall: The old school is the better school.

Upon arriving at the casino, Bond cashes in his chip, entitling him to a handsome four millionish euros that immediately catches the eye of Sévérine, who takes the opportunity to use the pickup line, “Why don’t you buy me a drink now that you can afford it?” The standard Bondian banter ensues at the bar as he calls Sévérine out on being a high class prostitute (the best kind) and implores her to take him to her boss. She scoffs and tells him that if he can get out of the casino alive, he’s more than welcome to join her on the boat that’s about to dock to the island where this mysterious madman awaits. That madman is Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem, who I actually think outshines all of his past roles with this one), a diabolical bleach blonde who formerly worked for MI6 under M’s reign.

Naturally, since Bond escapes the casino after being thrown into a pit of carnivorous Komodo dragons, he is able to have a chat with Raoul, mainly involving Raoul describing a parable between an island of rats that eat each other until there are only two left—asserting that M has manipulated circumstances to leave James and Raoul as the final two rats. This is followed by a bit of tomfoolery in the way of gay innuendo and a Johnny Appleseed situation in which Raoul places a shot glass filled with scotch on top of Sévérine’s head and asks Bond to shoot at it. After Bond aims nowhere near Sévérine, Raoul takes the liberty of simply shooting her in the head.

At that moment, a swarm of MI6 helicopters surround the island and apprehend Raoul to take him back to London for trial. Raoul, however, has meticulously crafted a far more elaborate plan. Q (Ben Whishaw, who appropriately played Sebastian Flyte in Brideshead Revisited and is also currently appearing in Cloud Atlas), the resident computer genius for MI6, is blind-sided when Raoul hacks into the MI6 servers and gains entry into the London Underground system. Causing mayhem and chaos throughout the city, Raoul heads right for the courthouse where M is being questioned in her role as the director of MI6 by the prime minister. After shooting most everyone in the room, and injuring Mallory, Raoul flees the scene. It is then that Bond and M agree that if anyone is going to be able to take Raoul down, it will have to be the two of them alone.

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While Skyfall adheres to the occasional corny line and the self-aware mockery of gadgetry, what writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan and director Sam Mendes have managed to do is create what is easily one of the best Bond movies in the vast selection of twenty-three.

Just as Woody Allen and Pedro Almodòvar have their muses in Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, so, too, does Rian Johnson in Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The writer-director collaborated with Gordon-Levitt on his first feature, Brick, a modern take on the noir genre that Looper seems to continue in its own futuristic way, and it is a partnership that has rightfully persisted.

Recently, the lack of original sci-fi scripts has been noticeable (remakes of Total Recall and The Thing come to mind), but with Looper, it is as though Johnson is setting a new bar again for intelligent sci-fi not derived from the literature of Philip K. Dick. That being said, Looper pairs time travel with organized crime and throws in a genetic mutation in a minor portion of the population that instills the ability to telekinetically move objects to create the crux of the plot. Because time travel is outlawed in the present, crime bosses have sent Abe (Jeff Daniels) from the future to manage a group of hitmen called loopers.

Joe's best friend, Seth (the lovely Paul Dano), is another looper who closely mirrors the same self-absorption and overall disregard for others--case in point being when they ride through the poverty-stricken streets together in Joe's ostentatious car terrorizing anyone in their way. They frequent a nightclub managed by Abe, mainly so Joe can pursue his vague relationship with a showgirl named Suzie (Piper Perabo, who will forever be the star of Coyote Ugly in my eyes). The meaninglessness and monotony of Joe's life is tempered only by his drug use (mysterious eye drops that he uses daily) and his financial savings for the goal of one day moving to France (in spite of Abe's direct quote, "I'm from the future and I'm telling you, you should move to China.").

It isn't until Seth barrels through Joe's apartment window in a panic that Joe learns of a crime boss from the future called the Rainmaker. Causing havoc among the crime world, the Rainmaker has started the trend of closing the loop on all loopers, meaning he sends the older version of a looper back in time to be shot by his younger self. In Seth's case, he was unable to bring himself to do it, which is why Abe and his gat men are on the hunt for him in an instant. With no one to turn to but Joe, Seth begs him to let him hide until he can figure out his next move. But when Abe calls Joe in and threatens to take all of the silver Joe has been stashing away for retirement, Joe gives up the information they're looking for.

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In a cruel twist of irony, Joe soon finds himself in the same scenario as Seth (who didn't have the luxury of escaping a slow, painful death), with Older Joe (Bruce Willis, who doesn't know how not to be badass) descending from the sky minutes later than Joe was expecting his mark to land. Flummoxed by the sight of his older self, Joe hesitates too long in shooting him, leaving Older Joe the chance to knock him out and flee. It is at this point in the film that the perspective shifts to Older Joe, and what happened to him in the thirty-year time span that separates him from Joe.

To the dismay of both parties, Joe and Older Joe find that working together might be the best approach to survival, in spite of how disparate their objectives are. As they attempt a cordial conversation at Joe's favorite diner, one of the primary themes of Looper becomes evident: It's easy to hate yourself--specifically when you can look back on who you were and foresee who you will become. As they discuss their respective objectives, the two quickly find that they are not going to agree on how to survive unscathed, with Older Joe wanting nothing but to kill the Rainmaker in his child form to protect the future and Joe wanting nothing but to kill Older Joe so he can close his loop and collect his gold payoff.

Going their violently separate ways, Joe finds himself experiencing drug withdrawals as he goes to a farm that was listed as one of the potential addresses of the Rainmaker. Already well into the second act, it is not until now that Emily Blunt as Sara makes her appearance. Constantly wielding a shotgun at the slightest tremor in her field, Sara hears Joe rustling in the leaves but does not actually see him until he comes to her defense when a vagrant tries to get into her house. Realizing how harmless Sara is, he informs her that he has to stay on her farm as there is nowhere else for him to go without getting caught by Abe. When Sara sees the sequence of numbers written down on the map that led him to the farm, she angrily shoots him--with salt rocks. Demanding to know how he obtained the numbers, Joe tells her that Older Joe wrote them down. Sara then tells him that they signify her son, Cid's (the simultaneously creepy and cute Pierce Gagnon), date of birth and the hospital he was born in.

With the promise to help protect Sara and Cid from his older self (though Sara doesn't know it's his older self until later on), Joe is allowed to stay on the farm, growing increasingly attached to both mother and son. As Cid's soon obvious telekinetic powers manifest whenever he gets upset or scared, Joe is forced to admit that Cid will grow up to become the Rainmaker. In spite of this knowledge, his final standoff with Older Joe leads to his ultimate character arc in that he at last understands the importance of self-sacrificing love. It is a culmination both bittersweet and triumphant.

 

 

While it may seem in good form to continue a film franchise based on a book series, The Bourne Legacy is something of an anomaly in the context of the Bourne trilogy starring Matt Damon. Though still based on Robert Ludlum's novels, The Bourne Legacy is actually a part of a newer series by Eric Van Lustbader entitled The New Jason Bourne novels. Perhaps that is why, in addition to lacking Jason Bourne, the film also lacks Ludlum's distinct voice.

The one consistent aspect about the fourth installment is the pairing of Tony Gilroy and Dan Gilroy as screenwriters. Once famed for helping Madonna get her start in their band, The Breakfast Club, the Gilroy brothers have proven themselves more than worthy film industry veterans. With The Bourne Legacy, their crafting of main character Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner, distinguished by most as being in films like The Town and Thor, but distinguished to me by being from Modesto) is secondary only to Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz).

The emotional subtleties and complexities of Marta by far outshine any of the acting Julia Stiles executed as Nicky Parsons, the presumable parallel to Marta. As Marta gradually then suddenly realizes the role she has played in Aaron's calculated demise on the part of the CIA and Department of Defense, she cannot help but feel responsible for him, traveling to the ends of the earth (Manila, Philippines) to help finalize the work that Operation Outcome (a covert Department of Defense program) started in administering blue pills for enhancing participants' intelligence and green pills for physical strength.

Aaron’s initial scheme to feign losing his supply of pills while on a training assignment in Alaska proves useful after his contact person, Number Three (Oscar Isaac), offers to replenish his cache, giving Aaron the increased intelligence he craves.  Unfortunately, before Aaron can gain access to the pills, Eric Byer (Edward Norton, who always seems to be playing a similar role to the nameless everyman in Fight Club), the head of overseeing clandestine operations for the CIA, orders Number Three’s cabin to be destroyed. As Aaron is walking outside to begin his journey back to civilization, the cabin explodes after a plane fires at it.

This unexpected attack immediately tips Aaron off to the fact that Operation Outcome and all of its participants are going to be wiped out. With no one to depend on except himself, Aaron sets out on a frantic journey through the woods, cuts out the tracking device that was implemented in his thigh, and inserts it into the mouth of an attacking wolf (no big deal) so that the CIA will assume they’ve killed him once the plane aims at his target.

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From there, the plot essentially emulates your generic action movie, though there is one particularly harrowing scene in which, after being chemically manipulated, one of the scientists in Shearing’s lab goes on a slow, methodical shooting rampage. Apart from this memorably unique few minutes, The Bourne Legacy can best be described as a challenging quest for drugs (what drug quest isn’t when you’re not in an L.A. nightclub?) and a series of chases and convoluted political backstories.

For anyone focused on the romance aspect of the film (which is probably no one except girlfriends who were coerced into seeing this and lesbians obsessed with Rachel Weisz), one can at least take comfort in knowing that the conclusion pays vague homage to the final scene in The Bourne Identity, picturesque scenery and all.

It's been a long time coming for Christopher Nolan's third and final installment of the Batman series. Whether or not it has been worth the four year wait (though in the film, it has been eight years that have lapsed) depends, I guess, on if you're impressed by the epic runtime of the movie (two hours and forty-four minutes). Well, that or Christian Bale's ability to talk in a voice that Patrick Bateman should have. This isn't to say that The Dark Knight Rises is, by any stretch of the imagination, an inadequate film; it just had far too much perfection to live up to after The Dark Knight.

Beginning on Harvey Dent Day, we find the city of Gotham in a state of peace, which it has remained in for eight years--ever since the night Harvey Dent/Two-Face (the lovely Aaron Eckhart, who appears frequently in the movie in photographic form) was killed. Because Gotham's population still assumes it was Batman (or "the Batman" as they like to call him) who was responsible for murdering Dent, no one has missed him during his eight year absence.

Simultaneously, of course, Bruce Wayne has been a virtual recluse until the night of a fundraiser at which Selina Kyle a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway, who puts Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman to shame) poses as one of the waitresses and inadvertently gets caught by Bruce after breaking into his safe and stealing his mother's pearl necklace. Before he can stop her, Selina is out the window in one gymnastic-like flourish.

As Commissioner James Gordon (the elusively attractive Gary Oldman) continues to hide the truth about Dent's alter ego and associated crimes, he can feel an impending sense of doom looming over Gotham. Foley (the always irritating Matthew Modine), another high level police force official, doesn't have the same high quality instincts as Gordon and ends up vilifying Batman after he comes out of his metaphorical coma to take on Bane (Tom Hardy, whose face is very unfortunately uncovered for the entire film), a former member of the League of Shadows and a firm believer in Ra's al Ghul's (Liam Neeson, who makes a brief cameo as a ghost) philosophies.

The only other police officer Gordon can really count on is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a man who can innately sense Batman's true identity--perhaps because they both share the orphan connection. In fact, he makes a personal appearance at Wayne Manor to exhort Bruce to come out of hiding and reintroduce Gotham to Batman. Alfred (Michael Caine), on the other hand, insists that Bruce's time as Batman is over, urging him to use his resources to help the police catch Bane instead. But Batman wouldn't be Batman if he took advice from old British men.

In the meantime, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, who, yes, rounds out a cast that could just as easily be in a sequel to Inception as opposed to a Batman trilogy) has agreed to take over Bruce's place on the board of directors for Wayne Enterprises after Bane took control of the stock exchange to bankrupt Bruce (and that's only the beginning of the depth of his elaborate terrorism). Miranda concedes to coming to Bruce's rescue largely because of her affection for him, being so bold as to go to his mansion (the only asset he is left with) and seduce him.

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Selina, dealing with problems of her own, leads Batman to Bane after he threatens her--though of course Bruce isn't aware she is selling him out until it's too late. Subsequently, Bruce gets the shit kicked out of him, but isn't given the easy out of death, instead being put in a prison that's located in a pit--the place that Bane was presumably born in. Bane then explains that he's going to make Bruce watch from afar as he single-handedly destroys Gotham using Miranda's clean energy device as a nuclear weapon.

But, obviously, Batman, being Batman, manages to become the only other person ever to escape the prison, allowing him to track down Selina again--much to her surprise and delight--to ask for her assistance. Reluctantly, Selina acquiesces, in spite of her jealousy over Batman's involvement with Miranda.

Although The Dark Knight Rises persists in emphasizing themes of anarchy, terrorism, disillusionment and class discrepancy (or what is referred to as everyday existence as a non-famous human), it does not bear the same elegantly understated, yet overstated (yes, it's possible for both to coexist) mannerisms and characters that overwhelmingly drive home these points in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Perhaps that's why James Holmes felt the need to take it to a more extreme level on yet another extremist shooting rampage in Colorado.

 

The phrase "Déjà vu all over again" comes to mind when sitting through Marc Webb's The Amazing Spider-Man. You know you've been here before, but somehow, you couldn't help but lead yourself down the same path again. The plot is vaguely familiar, most of the characters are the same and the Oscorp company name is bandied about heavily and generally used for evil purposes. Considering the comic book has been in publication since 1963--with new incarnations as late as 2010--one would think there would be a more disparate story to choose from than 2002's Spider-Man, detailing the genesis of how Peter Parker came to be Spider-Man, as well as 2007's Spider-Man 3, in which Bryce Dallas Howard plays the role of Gwen Stacy instead of Emma Stone.

These facts aside, there is something to be said for the latest casting choices in the story. Andrew Garfield, with his English lilt and gawky build, may actually trump Tobey Maguire's far too polished version of a nerd. And, then, of course, there is Emma Stone, whose portrayal of Gwen Stacy makes it hard to believe Peter Parker would ever cast a glance toward Kirsten Dunst's Mary Jane Watson.

The only ingredient that seems to be missing in this rendering of Spider-Man is a counterpart for the role that James Franco played as Harry Osborn. Without any true cohort, Peter Parker seems especially powerless against the likes of high school bullies like Flash Thompson (Chris Zylka), though it almost sounds impossible that anyone could be antagonistic at a school bearing the name Midtown Science High School.

As Peter becomes increasingly obsessed with figuring out what his father, Richard (Campbell Scott), was researching before he mysteriously disappeared with Peter's mother, Mary (Embeth Davidtz), leaving him in the care of his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (the slightly abrading Sally Field), he starts to uncover more of his father's scientific findings. He soon discovers an equation Richard developed called the decay rate algorithm, designed for regenerative use by creating cross-species, genetically altered humans. Yes, apparently science and action genres can coexist.

Peter's studies lead him to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), a scientist who worked with Richard at Oscorp before his disappearance. Under the guise of being an intern named Rodrigo, Peter gains entry into Oscorp and is quickly surprised to find Gwen is in charge of giving all of the interns a guided tour. She spots him in the crowd after he intelligently answers one of Dr. Connors' questions and assumes he snuck in to follow her. Preferring this assumption, Peter seizes the opportunity to snoop around and unlock the room where the cross-species experimentation takes place and somehow calmly stands there as a slew of random spiders crawl on his body (whereas anyone else would be freaking the fuck out).

As he leaves Oscorp, Peter is unaware of a spider that has latched onto him and bitten his neck, an incident that will change him permanently and in ways he soon realizes while riding the subway back to his house. In one of the most comical scenes of the movie (in addition to Stan Lee's appearance as an oblivious librarian), let alone any action-oriented story, Peter accidentally gets his hand caught on a woman's shirt, rips it off, and then ends up beating the shit out of everyone in the train car.

As his transformation accelerates, so, too, does Dr. Connors' desperation to find a cure for the ailing owner of Oscorp, Norman Osborn (who I was hoping would somehow appear as Guy Pearce looking exactly the way he did in Prometheus). Using the algorithm that Peter gave him, Dr. Connors uses it on himself before one of Osborn's stooges, Dr. Rajit Ratha (Irrfan Khan) can test it on unsuspecting victims at the veterans' hospital. This little experiment mutates him into a lizard that bears a strong resemblance to a dinosaur.

From then on, it's as though Dr. Connors has no control over his own actions (much in the same way that Peter is grappling to learn how to deal with his recently acquired characteristics), wreaking havoc all over the city (Williamsburg Bridge included--even hipsters aren't immune). Although Peter tries to warn Gwen's dad and the head of the police department, Captain Stacy (Denis Leary), that Connors is about to use his formula to transform everyone else in the city into cross-species humans, Captain Stacy can only quip, "Do I look like the mayor of Tokyo?"

In the meantime, Peter's bond with Gwen grows stronger, particularly in the wake of his uncle's murder (which, yes, also happens in Spider-Man). This causes heartache later when Captain Stacy makes Peter promise to protect the city, but to leave Gwen out of his plans for the future. In spite of promising this, it is clear that Peter won't be able to stay away for long after responding to one of his teachers who chastises him for being late by saying it won't happen again. The teacher then cautions,"Don't make promises you can't keep," leading Peter to lean forward and whisper to Gwen, "Yeah, but those are the best kind."

Regardless of being a well-made reconstruction of Spider-Man movies and comics past, I almost feel as though you could glean more new insight into Spider-Man by seeing Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark instead. But perhaps the sequel will provide us with a story we have yet to experience on the silver screen.

The most shocking element of Oliver Stone's latest directorial effort, Savages, isn't the violence or female polygamy (a feat perhaps only Blake Lively could accomplish). It's how linear and easy to follow the narrative is. Stone, generally notorious for his zigzagging, quagmiric plots and plot devices, has opted for a straightforwardly violent and sexual film. This precedent has not been so clearly established by the director since 2006's World Trade Center (minus the sex and violence, obviously).

Opening with the omniscient, Gossip Girl-like narration of Ophelia "O" Sage (Lively--and yes, she was supposed to be named after the famed Hamlet character), we learn of the seedy, marijuana-soaked underworld of, believe it or not, Laguna Beach, California, most of which is operated by the two loves of her life, Chon (Taylor Kitsch, whose campy film choices, like John Tucker Must Die and Snakes on a Plane, I'm beginning to miss) and Ben (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who has been making waves with his recent roles in Albert Nobbs and Anna Karenina). As O warns us, this is not a story that is necessarily going to turn out well.

With Ben's botany genius and Chon's penchant for beating the shit out of people (he's served several tours of duty in Afghanistan, if, for nothing else, to bring Ben back the best cannabis seeds), they've become a force to be reckoned with--not to mention the THC levels in their weed have reached thirty-three percent. Add their connections with a DEA agent named Dennis (John Travolta), and they're pretty much untouchable, that is, until a Mexican cartel run by a woman named Elena Sanchez (Salma Hayek, whose wig is on point in this movie) tries to get in on their business.

After being sent a video of several men getting their heads decapitated, Chon feels that he and Ben have no choice but to go to a meeting Elena (who they don't yet know is in charge) has arranged at a hotel room. Worried for both of their safety, O doesn't think they should make a deal with anyone or agree to sell any part of their business. Regardless, neither Chon nor Ben wants their heads chopped off for the sake of some weed, and so, they go to the hotel to stroke the feathers of pride. Predictably, however, they turn down the offer and leave with secret plans for the three of them to flee to Indonesia, which leads to the kidnapping of O the following day.

Based on the novel by Don Winslow, screenwriter Shane Salerno (best known for writing 1998's Armageddon), in conjunction with Winslow, does his best to fit all of the elements of the story into the film, though it is a challenge considering how convoluted everything can get when there are drugs, cartels, sides being played, and betrayals being made at every turn. Benicio del Toro (in one of his foulest looks to date, the mullet especially causing most of the cringe factor) as Miguel "Lado" Arroyo presents one of the more confusing aspects of the plot, though all you really need to know is that he is the most villainous and ire-invoking characters, extremely well-played by del Toro.

How it all unfurls once the kidnapping commences is merely Stone doing what he does best (though slightly less entertainingly than, say, Quentin Tarantino or Guy Ritchie): Showcasing violence at its goriest and most unpleasant. A man being tortured with his eyeball popped out of its socket is just one example. And then there's Lado retroactively showing O that he raped her while she was unconscious, holding up the video on his phone for her to see. So yeah, you know, just ordinary, run of the mill Oliver Stone fare.

While Savages is entertaining, scenically beautiful and, let's just say it, humanly beautiful (save for Benicio del Toro), it doesn't manage to say anything new or insightful about the drug world that other, more genuinely poignant drug movies have, even if indirectly (e.g. 24 Hour People, A Clockwork Orange, and City of God), already expressed.

A film that would serve as something of a prequel to Ridley Scott's seminal 1979 film Alien has been in the works for years. With Prometheus, the wait was all worth it as Damon Lindelof (who wrote for MTV's Undressed and was a former Nicholl semi-finalist) and John Spaihts (The Darkest Hour) weave a spot-on cheesy science-fiction script that only Ridley Scott could make work outside of the 70s. Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, the director of the ship Prometheus, is, hands down, given all of the best lines. In fact, she may be the best part of Prometheus, especially if you see the genius in the dominatrix-like delivery of her lines (e.g. "I think there might be some confusion about the nature of our relationship.").

The mission of Prometheus is simple: Follow a star map found by archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green, not to be confused with Tom Hardy) to the moon known as LV-223. Funded by Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce, who still looks pretty hot as a fossil) of the Weyland Corp., the intent of the mission is to accept what is presumed as an invitation from their "makers" to learn more about the forerunners that created them. Guided by an android called David (Michael Fassbender, who can twerk an Aryan appearance quite well), the ship is run tightly by Meredith, who, in a creepy scene toward the end of the film, we learn is the daughter of Weyland.

Everything seems to be going smoothly (doesn't it always?) until Charlie, Elizabeth, and their fellow explorers come across a number of stone cylinders, the corpse of an alien, and a decapitated head. Unnerved by the storm that occurs immediately after the cylinders start leaking, the crew makes its way back to the ship, but not before David steals one of the cylinders. Once back on Prometheus, the head found in the cave is dissected and found to have human DNA. Meanwhile, David puts his latent plan into motion by extracting the liquid from the cylinder and lacing Charlie's drink with it. Later that night, Charlie sleeps with Elizabeth, unaware of what their union foretells.

Outside of Prometheus, Charlie, Fifield (Sean Harris), and Millburn (Rafe Spall) are attacked by aliens resembling snakes and attempt to make their way back onto the ship. The infection from the liquid, at this point, has infected Charlie at an alarming rate, and, seeing the nature of his condition, Meredith refuses to let him onto the ship, instead dousing him with fire and killing him. Though Millburn has also been killed, Fifield mutates into something inhuman and tries to attack everything in his path before being quelled.

Already traumatized by the death of Charlie, Elizabeth must also grapple with the news that she is pregnant with an alien spawn in spite of being sterile. In typical thug, Girl With the Dragon Tattoo style, Elizabeth hops into a machine that plucks the alien from her stomach and then staples it shut, just in time for her to escape from her own "child." It's really quite foul to watch, but at the same time, the most memorable and iconic scene from the movie (unless you're a dude, in which case, it's Charlize Theron doing push-ups).

http://youtu.be/sftuxbvGwiU

The intense urgency of Prometheus merely elevates from this moment forth, as Elizabeth struggles to understand why mankind's creators would give them life only to concoct a biological weapon intended to destroy them. Determined to figure out the reason, the film concludes with Elizabeth using what is left of David (his detached head) to get another one of the Engineer's ships to work so that she can go to their planet and personally confront them. In other words, get ready for another Ridley Scott Alien-tinged movie. Though, of course, no one will ever hold a candle to Sigourney Weaver.