Movie Review – Looper

Plot: In the year 2072, time travel has been invented, but becomes outlawed.  The Mob uses it illegally to transport people back 30 years, where specialized assassins called ‘Loopers’ make the clean kill.  When Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a very successful Looper, has to kill his future self (Bruce Willis) and fails, it puts both Joes in great danger.

Whether it’s Star Wars, the Terminator or Inception, sci-fi is the one genre that when done right creates an instant classic.  Looper has now joined those ranks.  When you can make time travel work, that’s a bonus.  But just like with the films I mentioned before, it’s not the bad ass sci-fi action that makes these movies legendary: it’s the story and character development.  Looper delivers this in spades.  I care about Joe not because he’s merely a bad ass (which he is), but I’m emotionally invested in his arc.

The first act gives us a simple run of the mill cool movie.  The acting is great all around, especially Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who is starting to become one of my favorite working actors.  This guy is a total drugged out jackass, yet still charismatic.  I was more than happy to go with this guy as the protagonist.

Jeff Daniels was also a treat as Joe’s mob boss, Abe.  He’s that quiet calm scary mob boss who wants to be your best friend.  Daniels plays it very friendly, but gives you just enough of that ‘evil twinge’ to know this is somebody you don’t want to screw with.  I wish there was more of him.

It’s a stylish first act where the rules and exposition are efficiently explained.  It’s not until Bruce Willis comes into the picture as future Joe where the movie takes a drastic turn and becomes something much more.

The big turning point of the movie is when these guys hash it out at a simple diner.  It’s a phenomenally well written scene, both tense and exhausting.  As the two start talking about time travel, and what future Joe coming back could potentially mean, you can see the pain and headache Willis gets when talking about it, so much so that he doesn’t want to get into the perils of time travel.  Willis plays this so well.  I even got a headache myself watching it.  Levitt is also fantastic in this scene, as this is the moment that really draws a line in the sand of what these guys want.  What’s so fascinating to me is that you’ll end up siding with one of the Joes at the end of this scene, but as the film plays out, these guys almost have reverse character arcs.  Watching this take place is both heartwarming and repulsive at the same time.

The two Joes aren’t the only strong characters.  Towards the middle of the film, a child named Cid is introduced, and let’s just say he plays a critical part in the movie.  He’s played by Pierce Gagnon, and it’s an intense performance.  Gagnon is awesome, albeit a little over the top at times, but I think he’s supposed to be.

The other two characters of note are Kid Blue (Noah Segan) and Sara (Emily Blunt).  Kid Blue is basically the comic relief.  He’s a mafia screw up, and while he is legitimately funny and well played by Segan, his character got a little too much play towards the end.  The movie made it seem like he was bigger then what was portrayed at the beginning.

Blunt is solid as Sara, the female lead of the film.  And while I enjoyed Blunt’s character, present day Joe spends a lot of time with her in the middle of the film, and this is where the movie sort of drags.  There’s some well written dialogue, but it’s fairly slow, and a little yawn inducing mid-way through the second act.

But as much as the second act drags, the third act more than makes up for it.  The last 10-15 minutes are absolutely pulse pounding.  This is where it’s okay to use the cliché ‘I was on the edge of my seat.’  I have to give credit to writer/director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brother’s Bloom), because his script was brilliant all the way through, and the end was a perfect resolution.

It’s hard to talk about this film without spoiling it.  Looper has everything that makes movies great: Story.  Character development.  Acting.  Tension.  Superb direction.  Rian Johnson is someone who will absolutely move up the lists of today’s great directors.  When you’re dealing with sci-fi, the potential for screwing up is pretty damn high, but everything in Looper is explained so well with very little exposition.  Juxtapose this with Green Lantern, which is nothing but exposition, exposition, exposition, exposition, ‘we don’t trust the audience to figure it out,’ and did I mention more exposition?  The only scene that was sort of confusing was an alternate version of one of the bigger moments of the film, but I won’t say anything more.  Other than time travel, they also use another overdone sci-fi trope, but they use it so well, I didn’t mind, even if it did seem a little shoe-horned in.

Bottom-line: This movie kicks ass, and easily one of the best films of the year.

Rating: 9 out of 10 (OMG)    

The Ninja Turtle Controversy

Like a lot of people my age, I was a die hard Ninja Turtles fan as a kid, and still am to this day.  I still have the movies, DVDs of the show, action figures buried in my garage, yadda, yadda, yadda.  I could go on all day.  Bottom-line: I love the Ninja Turtles.  So when I found out there was going to be a revamped live action turtles movie, I got pretty excited.  This will be a reboot, and I think the time is right for one.  2007’s animated TMNT was a solid film from the old universe, but it’s time to move on and take the Turtles to a bigger stage.  When I found out that Michael Bay was producing, my feelings were…mixed.  There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this film, and it’s still well over 15 months away.  I have a lot to say, so let’s stop being a Michelangelo and wasting time, and let’s get into this whole Turtle debacle.

There are both positives and negatives to Michael Bay’s involvement.  Let me be very clear about this: I hate the Transformer movies.  I’ll repeat that: I hate the Transformer movies.  But the one thing I can say about them is that they were given a big stage, and had a crap load of money behind them.  With Bay producing, I can only assume the Turtles will get the same treatment.  And my assumptions have already proven to be correct.  The film will open on Christmas 2013.  That’s a major release date.  This logically means the film will get a huge budget, something the Turtles have never really had.

So what are the negatives?  Well, it goes back to the Transformer movies.  What I detest most about those films is the humor.  It’s Jar Jar Binks level comedy.  And the Transformers aren’t even supposed to be that funny.  With the Turtles already being somewhat comical characters at times, I can only imagine what hijinks Bay will subject my childhood to.  Will Michelangelo fart and go, ‘Whoa dudes, looks like I had way too much quac and pepperoni pizza.  Cowastinka, dudes!’  Yeah…this is a real possibility.  But thankfully, Bay isn’t actually directing.  The guy they got however might be worse.

The director for this movie is Jonathan Liebesman.  For those who don’t know, Liebesman directed not only my least favorite movie of last year, but one of my least favorite movies of all time: Battle Los Angeles.  Filmmaking doesn’t get much worse then this atrocious display.  The shaky cam is out of control, and you can’t tell what the hell is going on.  Imagine watching a climactic Splinter/Shredder fight, but you can’t even see it because this guy thinks it’s hip and cool to shake the camera while filming (shudder).

Now, thankfully, I saw Wrath of the Titans a few weeks ago, a movie directed by none other than Jonathan Liebesman.  While it’s not a great movie by any stretch, the action at least was pretty stellar, but it still had some shaky cam here and there.  Hopefully by the time he sits down to direct Ninja Turtles, the shaky cam will be out of his system.  But one of the other issues I have with the Transformer movies is that you can’t tell what’s going on in the action either.  With Bay and Liebesman working together, I’m obviously nervous.

Those are really my two biggest concerns: Bay’s influence, and the director.  But let’s get to the real controversy surrounding this film.  Bay confirmed that the Turtles aren’t going to be mutants, but actually aliens from another planet.  We all know the original Turtle origin:  They are four baby turtles, they fall down a sewer, they get into green radioactive material, and we’re off and running.  But now this entire origin is gone as they are supposedly now coming to Earth as aliens.  So how do I feel about this change?

I’m not one of these fanboys that constantly complains about things getting changed from the source material.  As long as you make it good, I’m happy.  In fact, when a story element is kept the same just to please fans, it can be a recipe for disaster.  Sometimes you got to change it up.  I always use The Dark Knight example for this argument.  People flipped out when the entire origin of the Joker was changed from a guy getting doused in chemicals inflicting him with permanent white skin to a guy who has scars and splashes white make-up on his face.  Director Christopher Nolan changed the Joker for the better.

But here’s the problem with Ninja Turtles – we aren’t talking about Christopher Nolan…we’re talking about Michael Bay.  I’m not concerned with the fact that the Turtle origin is getting revamped, I’m concerned that it’s Michael Bay doing the revamping.  But to be honest, this whole alien thing doesn’t concern me as much as the concerns I expressed earlier with the humor and shaky action.  I think the alien stuff could actually work.  And if I may point out, there was an episode of the original cartoon series where the Turtles visit the Planet of the Turtleoids where they encountered an entire planet of Turtles, and that was a pretty damn good episode.  And who knows, with aliens and other planets getting introduced, that could leave the door open for Krang to make an appearance, which is something Turtle fans have been clamoring for to be in a live action movie for years.

At the end of the day, I pray this movie is awesome.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you the Turtles are this serious property that can be taken to the heights other superheroes like Batman and X-Men have been taken to, but it’s not a dumb, silly concept either, alright!  The Ninja Turtles mean a lot to me, and I’m just hoping for something good that keeps the Turtle brand going…and if sucks, I can always pop in the original 1990 classic.


Top 5 TV Mentors

Whether it’s marital problems, flunking out of school, or even being afraid of a simple trip to the dentist, television always gave us great Sages to guide our characters through the tough times.  The age of the TV mentor is nearly dead, as today’s television advice givers are seriously flawed individuals.  Look at Ron Swanson on Parks and Recreation (Nick Offerman), or Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) on 30 Rock.  While they are mentors for the protagonist, they aren’t exactly the perfect human beings.  The days of Mike Brady are long gone.  But let’s look back at a time when television did give us those flawless human beings: My Top 5 Favorite Television Mentors

5) Dr. Jason Seaver (Alan Thicke) – Growing Pains:

-Well, the man was a psychiatrist, so obviously he’s going to be able to dish out some good advice.  While I have him #5 on the list, he kind of failed more often than not.  Let’s be honest – his only challenge was his slacker son Mike (Kirk Cameron).  How successful really was Jason with Mike overall?  He barely graduated, and he remained lazy for much of his time at Alf Landon Junior College.  Eventually, he got it together, but it was a long battle for Jason Seaver.  In the end, Jason deserves a spot on this list because Mike was a tough adversary.  But I think the real evidence of his wise teachings came later in the series when Mike mentored troubled homeless teen Luke, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  The student becomes the Master.  Well done, Jason.

Go to Method of Advice Giving: Jason often took the ‘you have so much potential’ approach with Mike.

Vintage Jason Moment: In the sixth season premiere, ‘Mike’s Choice,’ him and Jason have an epic showdown, where Mike is threatening to drop out of college and move to New York to become a star on Broadway.  Jason really goes all out here, but the result is Mike’s room being completely emptied out the next morning.  Even though Jason failed, Mike eventually returns, and their bond is stronger than ever.

4) Master Splinter (Peter Renaday, voice) – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Original Series):

-You can’t have a Television Mentor list without Master Splinter.  When the ooze affected both him and the Turtles, Splinter knew there was a deeper purpose for why this happened.  Once known as the great Ninja Master Hamato Yoshi, Splinter teaches the four turtles martial arts, and the rest is history.  Splinter was always one for wise advice, but when it came to training the turtles, that’s where he really shined.  Oh, and Splinter was not averse to kicking some ass himself.

Go to Method of Advice Giving: Meditation was Splinter’s forte, as well as constantly trying to get the Turtles to eat sushi rather than pizza.  He failed on that one.

Vintage Splinter Moment: In the final episode, ‘Divide and Conquer,’ the Turtles have finally defeated the evil Lord Dregg.  At the end of the episode, Splinter tells his sons he is no longer their sensei, as they are now equals.  Wow…that’s some heavy stuff.  I probably would have held Michelangelo (Townsend Coleman, voice) back though.

3) Wilson Wilson, Jr. (Earl Hindman) – Home Improvement:

-First of all, his name is Wilson Wilson…let’s reflect on that for a moment.  Out of everyone on this list,Wilson was probably counted on the most to give advice.  Seriously, if Tim (Tim Allen) wasn’t next door neighbors with this guy, he’d probably be divorced.  No doubt about it.  But it wasn’t just Tim who relied on the eccentric weird-o. Jill (Patricia Richardson) also used him from time to time, and sometimes even the Taylor boys would drop by the famous fence.  I think Al (Richard Karn) even sought his advice later in the series.  But whether he was testing his maracas, or squeezing his apples late at night, it was never a bother for good ole Wilson.  And the fact that you never see his face just adds to the mystic…

Go to Method of Advice Giving: Very obscure philosophical references.

Vintage Wilson Moment: I can’t really pinpoint to one, they all kind of ran together.  There are a few episodes where we see the inside of his house, and that really sums up the character.

2) Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) – Full House:

-I think Danny had the benefit of being aided by really cheesy and sappy music.  This really elevated his legendary speeches.  Danny Tanner was a simple man.  He loved his family, wanted his house clean, and always appreciated a good hug.  Proof that he’s a wise sage is when the mom of Stephanie’s (Jodie Sweetin) friend asks him, ‘Do you always sound like a fortune cookie?’  Yup, that’s Danny Tanner.  Whether he’s giving his three daughters advice, Jesse (John Stamos), Joey (Dave Coulier), or even a total stranger, Danny didn’t mess around.  He wanted to solve any problem that came his way.

Go to Method of Advice Giving: He’s all about the long speeches that never end.

Vintage Danny Moment: Honestly, it’s the very first episode titled ‘Our Very First Show.’  This was really his first big test.  DJ (Candace Cameron) wants to move down to the basement because she doesn’t want to live with Stephanie.  But Danny senses there are bigger issues at foot.  This is Danny’s first big speech about family togetherness…now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to grab a box of tissues.  I’m getting a little misty eyed.

1) George Feeny (William Daniels) – Boy Meets World:

-It’s not even close.  The guy has his own call (The Feeny Call) for crying out loud!  Feeney was more than just a teacher: He was a living breathing Master.  Plus, this guy by far had the biggest challenge.  He had to deal with Cory (Ben Savage) whining about his girlfriend all the time, Shawn (Rider Strong), who was just a complete mess, and then Cory’s brother, Eric (Will Friedle), a total crazy person.  Feeny strongly believed in the teacher/student bond, and in the last episode where he sends off all the main characters with one final speech, he is vindicated.  If everyone had a George Feeny telling them what to do, we’d all be kicking ass at life.

Go to Method of Advice Giving: He’s really a combination of all the previous methods.  Everything is in his repute.

Vintage Feeny Moment: In the Season 4 episode, ‘Quiz Show,’ Cory, Shawn, and Topanga (Danielle Fishel) keep winning on a game show by answering useless pop-culture questions.  When their arrogance gets them in trouble in class while Feeny tries to teach them about Gutenberg and the printing press, Feeny goes on a glorious rant about their generation, and how they all use such great technology for useless information.  It was epic.

Well, there you have it.  My favorite TV Mentors.  As the great Feeny once said, ‘Class dismissed.’

TV Review – 30 Rock Season 6 Premiere

Plot: In the sixth season premiere, Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) is acting carefree and happy, and Tracy (Tracy Morgan) is determined to find out why.  Meanwhile, Jenna (Jane Krakowski) plays a mean judge on the new hit show, America’s Kidz Got Singing.  Kenneth (Jack McBrayer) believes the rapture is coming.

If you’ve been watching 30 Rock from the beginning, you know exactly what you’re going to get with this episode.  It’s clear 30 Rock will never really challenge itself again, but there’s nothing wrong with that.  We can always rely on consistent laughs, and it’s pretty impressive they’ve managed to do this for 5+ years with so many one-note characters.

This episode pretty much rehashes elements we’ve seen before.  Liz is acting really happy, and taking on life with a positive outlook, which we can only assume won’t last.  Jack (Alec Baldwin) flirts with making big decisions with his heart, and not his business sense, which we can only assume…won’t last.  But, it’s still funny.  And Liz and Jack have always been the two characters that keep the show at least one foot grounded in reality, as everything around them is pretty much now a fantasy world of wackiness and absurdity.

This is especially apparent with the Kenneth plotline.  To be honest, I’ve never been the biggest Kenneth fan.  He and Tracy are truly the one-note characters, but Tracy still cracks me up, while I’ve been over Kenneth for three years.  Kenneth believes the rapture is coming, so Frank (Judah Friedlander) and company screw with this head.  I got a few chuckles out of this, but the end gets so nuts, that I think they were just trying too hard, and I lost all interest.

The absolute best part of the episode is Jenna’s new career as a Simon Cowell like judge on a rip-off of America’s Got Talent, appropriately titled America’s Kidz Got Singing.  Jane Krakowski has always been the funniest aspect of the show, and she is hysterical in this cheap knock off.  This is no surprise, as the best jokes from 30 Rock stem from the fake shows/skits.  The Queen of Jordan reality show was the highlight of last season, and I’m happy to say D’Fwan (Tituss Burgess) makes an appearance in this episode.

If you’ve never really been into this show, then this won’t change your mind.  If you’re a fan, get ready for more of the same.  It looks like we are in for another solid season of 30 Rock.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Movie Review – The Muppets

Plot: When the old Muppet theater is scheduled to be torn down so a rich oil tycoon (Chris Cooper) can dig for oil, the Muppets get back together.  With the help of their new friends, Gary (Jason Segal) and his brother Walter (Peter Linz, voice), the Muppets put on one last show to save their theater.

There’s no doubt this is the best Muppet movie since The Muppets Take Manhattan way back in 1984…but it could have been better.  Don’t get me wrong: I had a blast with this film.  Every time the Muppets are on screen, they are at the top of their game.  Every Muppet related gag hits those Muppet high notes.  What hinders this from being great though are the non-Muppet moments.  It’s not that these moments are bad, but I found myself asking, ‘Why am I settling for this?  Just go back to the Muppets!’

Jason Segal plays Gary, an upbeat teacher who lives in the small town known as…Smalltown.  He’s got a girlfriend named Mary (Amy Adams), and a brother Walter, who is actually a puppet, and you guessed it, a huge fan of the Muppets.  Here’s the problem:  They dominate the first 15-20 minutes of the film, including a huge musical number.  And like I said, it’s not that these scenes are bad, but they are mediocre.  I don’t understand why they are getting extended screen time for a film called The Muppets.  I really don’t care about Gary and Walter, I’m sorry.  What really irked me though is once the actual Muppets show up, these characters are still on screen for a fair amount of time.  That’s really ridiculous.  Once the Muppets arrive, it’s really time to let them take over the film, yet we are still peppered with Gary and Mary-centric musical numbers.  I want the Muppets!

Now like I said, every thing involving the Muppets is damn good.  My favorite part of the film is just gathering up all the Muppets, and seeing what they’ve been up to.  Fozzie’s (Eric Jacobson, voice) nightclub act is brilliant, Gonzo’s (Dave Goelz, voice) plumbing business is hilarious, and Animal (Eric Jacobson, voice)…well, I’m not going to spoil what Animal’s been up to, but it’s really funny.  And it’s not just the main Muppets who have their time in the spotlight.  Muppets like Statler (Steve Whitmire, voice) & Waldorf (Dave Goelz, voice), Beaker (Steve Whitmire, voice) and Roowlf (Matt Vogel, voice) all have awesome moments.  And as much as I’m complaining about the non-Muppet characters having too many scenes, I don’t feel like any Muppet got short changed.  Gonzo is really only in two scenes, but they are fantastic scenes.  Even with limited screen time, every Muppet leaves their mark.

Even with all the Muppets though, this film was a bit cheapened by too many celebrity cameos.  To the film’s credit, I like a lot of the cameos such as Jack Black, Rashida Jones, Zack Galifianakis and Neil Patrick Harris, who only has one line, but it’s probably the best thing he could have said.  But there are so many useless cameos just for the sake of having cameos: Whoopi Goldberg, Selena Gomez, John Krasinski and James Carville.  Really?!  James Carville?!  He’s just there answering a telephone!  Is that necessary!  Even Donald Glover from Community, who I really like as an actor, randomly comes in, and there’s just no point to it.  Stuff like that really annoyed me.  It’s just so self-indulgent.

One of the performances I did really like though was Chris Cooper as the evil oil tycoon.  Cooper was perfect, and this wasn’t just some random cameo, he actually played a key character, so that was fine.

At the end of the day, this is a Muppet movie, and it hit me pretty hard.  I just wish a lot of the celebrity cameos and hoopla were trimmed down so I could spend more quiet moments with just the Muppets.  If you’re a fan of the Muppets, you will really like this movie.  If you aren’t, I still think you’ll find some enjoyment, and maybe that’s why a lot of these non-Muppet characters are even in the film in the first place.

What really pissed me off though is when Kermit (Steve Whitmire, voice) has this amazing speech at the end, but it’s completely undermined by a plot point they throw in during the credits!  That’s such garbage!  You can’t just throw in a major resolution during the credits!!  Unbelievable!!

Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good) 

Video Game Review – Batman: Arkham City

Plot: Sequel to 2009’s Arkham Asylum.  After the events on Arkham Asylum, Gotham officials have cut off a section of the city dubbed ‘Arkham City,’ where all of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals are now held.  The facility is run by the deranged Dr. Hugo Strange (Corey Burton) who has plans for Arkham City that Batman (Kevin Conroy) must uncover while many of his major adversaries try and destroy him, including the Joker (Mark Hamill).

I never dreamed a Batman video game could be this good.  If you are a die hard Batman fan, this game was made for you.  Aside from training around the world for a decade and being a billionaire, this is the closest you’ll ever get to becoming Batman.  Despite its terrible and anti-climactic ending, 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum was the best non-multiplayer game to come out in years.  This game takes everything that was great about Arkham Asylum and makes it not just a little better, but significantly better.

The game play is flawless.  Moving around and fighting is smooth as can be.  And even though you fight a group of thugs 900 times in this game, it never gets old.  The countering system they introduced in Arkam Asylum was very good, but I can’t even put into words how unbelievable it is in Arkham City.  It’s so satisfying to elbow two guys behind you, grab their heads, and then slam them to the ground.

The parts in which you truly get to be Batman are when you’re sneaking around and taking out enemies without other thugs seeing you.  Silent takedowns were all present in the first game, but here, it feels fresh once again.

And what Batman video game would be complete without gadgets.  What I love about Arkham City is you basically start with all the gadgets you ended with from Arkham Asylum, and you just get to add more stuff.  The introduction of the smoke pellet is pretty awesome.  The two gadgets that are stand outs for me though are controlling the remote control batarang and the line launcher, which was in the original game, but in this, after you launch a line, you can launch another one while zip lining.  Batman does an awesome little flip maneuver to transition into this.  It’s so bad ass.

One of the drawbacks to Arkham Asylum is that you’re relegated to only Arkham Asylum.  The environments got kind of repetitive.  Here, it’s basically Gotham City…a vast improvement.  There’s nothing better than gliding around the city.

As far as the story goes, I liked the story to Arkham Asylum, but I wasn’t blown away.  In this one…I’m blown away.  Aside from Zelda games, I’m not one who gets into the story for a video game.  I like simple games and don’t need ten minute cut scenes.  I’ll watch a movie if I want that.  But in this, I was really invested in the plot.  It’s a fantastic Batman story, and the voice acting (especially Conroy and Hamill) is through the roof.

They cram so many big time Batman villains into this, yet none of them feel forced.  They all serve a great purpose to the story.  And when you get into a boss fight with a villain, the game delivers in spades.  Each boss gets his own unique battle, and it’s just so much damn fun!  There were a couple major Batman villains I felt got short changed though, and once again, the Riddler is relegated to bonus challenges.  I’d like to see him in the main game, but oh well.

Speaking of the Riddler, this game is packed to the brim with bonus stuff.  There are side missions, challenge maps, Riddler challenges and a Catwoman mode.  I’ve barely scratched the surface on the bonus material, but I definitely plan on conquering them at some point, and trust me, I am not one to do that in a video game.  Once I beat the game, I’m done.  But Arkham City…I’ll be back time and time again.

The only other thing I want to touch on is the ending, but I won’t give anything away.  When I played Arkham Asylum, I was devastated by how lame the final boss battle was.  It nearly ruined a great game.  In this game, I have mixed feelings.  Basically, there are two things that happen at the end.  One of them was AWESOME, and something I totally didn’t see coming.  The other is tough to talk about, because while I think it was a good story ending, it’s not a good video game ending.  But all in all, the ending satisfied me, unlike the crap they pulled in Arkham Asylum.

If you’re a big video game fan, you should play this game.  But if you’re a Batman fan…you have to play this game.

Rating: 9.5 out of 10 (OMG, OMG)

Movie Review – Warrior

Plot: Two brothers who haven’t spoken in years enter an intense Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament called ‘Sparta.’  One is a physics teacher (Joel Edgerton) who hasn’t fought professionally in years.  The other is a former marine (Tom Hardy) who is trained by his recovering alcoholic father (Nick Nolte) whom both brothers still hold a grudge with.

In many ways, Warrior is your typical cliché sports movie, but the emotions and conflicts in this film are so intense, it transcends the generic sports story.  Yes, it has the underdog story.  Yes, it has the ‘he’s going up against an insurmountable opponent’ plot line, but it’s not about that.  It’s about these two brothers, and how shattered their relationship is between themselves, but more importantly, with their father, played brilliantly by Nick Nolte.

The acting is off the charts.  Nick Nolte plays Paddy Conlon, a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for almost 1,000 days.  He wants nothing more then to be close with his sons again, but both hate him beyond belief for his past actions.  Yes, it’s a storyline we’ve seen a hundred times, but there are some truly heartbreaking moments Nolte delivers.  One scene that really got to me is when Paddy visits the elder son, Brendan, and Brendan doesn’t even let him come in the house to see his two granddaughters.  The end of this scene is soul crushing, and Nolte nails it.  But his best scene, and what I believe is an Oscar moment, takes place in an Atlantic City hotel room after his younger son Tommy was particularly vicious towards him a few moments earlier.  I’m telling you, this scene really knocks you on your ass.  It’s Christian Bale The Fighter level acting.

As good as Nolte was though, the two leads (Joel Edgeton and Tom Hardy) are right there with him.  Edgerton’s performance makes it real easy to root for him.  He’s the guy you really follow in this movie, and I can’t imagine anyone else playing this role.  They also give his character the best secondary relationships.  The bond between him and his wife (Jennifer Morrison) is effective, as well as the banter and friendship between Brendan and his manager (Frank Grillo).

But the man who steals the show is Tom Hardy.  The character he plays is like an angry Rocky Balboa.  He dresses like Rocky, approaches fights similar to Rocky, but he’s certainly not going to tell a joke like Rocky.  He is a bitter, bitter human being, and Hardy’s performance is fascinating.  It’s in the fighting scenes though where he really shines: Hardy is ferocious.   I was already excited for his Bane performance in The Dark Knight Rises next summer, but now I’m foaming at the mouth.

The director for this is Gavin O’Connor, who also did Miracle.  He should just direct every sports movie.  He builds up the tension so well.  The two brothers don’t even have a scene together until much later in the film, and you are on pins and needles waiting for that moment.  When they finally meet up at night on the beach, he withholds their first dialogue exchange just a little bit longer as they slowly walk towards each other.  They probably could have used one more scene together though, which would have made the ending even that much stronger.  And yeah, I’m not spoiling anything here because it’s in the trailers, but they eventually fight in this tournament.  And what’s so interesting is that not only is the fight intense, but they battle their issues with each other within the fight, and it’s really brilliant with how they do it.  They also build up these little mini conflicts between some of the other fighters which are also effective.

The directing isn’t perfect though.  I hated the panel style editing during the training montage.  Didn’t we learn our lesson from this with Ang Lee’s Hulk?  There’s also too many comedic moments in some of the more serious scenes.  There’s this whole section devoted to Brendan’s school, and how the Principal (Kevin Dunn) is a closet MAA fan.  He’s watching Brendan fight at home, and they do all these annoying cut backs to him cheering.  It’s just too much.  The movie is also paced way too slowly.  For the most part, it’s beneficial to the film, but it doesn’t need to be this long.

I can completely forgive the director for these mistakes with how great everything else is.  Coming from someone who’s not a fan of MMA at all, I thought the fights scenes were filmed exceptionally well.

Trust me: you don’t have to be an MMA fan to appreciate this movie.  Like I said, it’s not about that.  It’s about these three characters and exploring how broken their relationships are, and the horrors of their past, especially with what you learn about Hardy’s character.  This film is an emotional roller coaster, especially at the end…maybe even a little too over the top.  This is easily one of the best movies of the year.  The music is great.  The performances are great.  The directing is great.  It’s great.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Really Great)

Football and Superheroes

Tonight is the best night of the year.  Why is that?  NFL KICK-OFF!  Yup, the NFL kicks off another great season, and this one feels extra special due to the fact that it almost didn’t happen.

But with all these superhero movies I’ve been seeing and reviewing lately, I thought it would be fun to pull out a few superheroes (and villains) and predict what NFL teams they would root for.  Would Superman be a Dallas Cowboys fan?  What jersey does Batman wear when he watches NFL Sunday Ticket in the Batcave as Alfred serves him a Bud Light?  Let’s take a look:

Superman would be an Indianapolis Colts Fan:

– Superman is such a powerful human being and can literally destroy you at will.  That’s what Peyton Manning does.  Peyton can pick apart a defense like he’s not even trying, just as Superman can rip through walls and barely realize he’s doing it.  I think Superman and Peyton can identify with each other due to their similar power levels.  And they both have their own kryptonite, Peyton’s being the playoffs.

Lex Luthor would be a Dallas Cowboys Fan:

-I think this one’s pretty obvious.  Lexcorp is worth well over a billion dollars, and Luthor thinks all the ridiculous weapons and robots he builds are bettering mankind, but really everyone just sees him as trying to take over the world.  Jerry Jones anyone?  It’s that reason alone why Luthor wears the Tony Romo jersey on Sundays.  If there’s anyone in superhero lore that would build the type of Stadium Jerry built, it would be Lex Luthor.

The Flash would be a Carolina Panthers Fan:

-The Flash can do one thing really well: run fast.  The Panthers can do one thing really well: run fast.  With two dynamic running backs in their back field (DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart), I think Flash would totally identify with this team’s philosophy.

Doomsday would be a San Diego Chargers Fan:

-The Chargers are an insanely talented and frightening team, but ultimately, their season is short lived.  Much like Doomsday, the Chargers don’t come in with any real plan and just try to bash their opponents apart with offense.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Doomsday can relate.

Wolverine would be a Baltimore Ravens Fan:

-The Ravens consistently have one of the best defenses in the NFL.  They play ferocious and angry.  This is Wolverine in a nutshell.  It’s not always a pretty win, but the Ravens are usually left standing with a victory because nobody can score against them.  Wolverine can just keep healing…you’ll never injure him.  There’s no doubt in my mind that Wolverine has a Ravens jersey hanging in his closet.

Magneto would be a Pittsburgh Steelers Fan:

-Magneto feels the mutant race doesn’t get enough respect.  The Steelers are always there in the end, but they are never picked to win the Super Bowl.  And when you disrespect the Steelers, they make you pay.  Dearly.  They are a smart, cold and calculating team, much like the leader for the Brotherhood of Mutants.  Plus, their team name is the Steelers…Steel-ers.  Magneto can bend metal…come on!

Captain America would be a New England Patriots Fan:

-I think this one speaks for itself.  Patriots.  Captain America.  Yeah, that sounds right.  But I also think Tom Brady and Captain America are cut from the same cloth.  When we look at Tom Brady, we see a guy who worked his ass off his whole life, but never got any football respect.  He was taken in the sixth round, nothing but an afterthought.  Steve Rogers was the same way: just a scrawny skinny guy who no one thought much of.  But much like the Patriots taking a chance on Brady, the Army did with Rogers, giving him the super serum.  When both men got the opportunity, they led their teams gloriously and selflessly to victory.  Besides, Captain America is also a brilliant tactician, much like Brady and Bill Belichick.

 Two-Face would be a Houston Texans Fan:

-Aside from the fact that they always seem to go 8-8 (which Two-Face would absolutely love), the Texans really are a Two-Faced team.  Sometimes they are fantastic, but other times they play like one of the worst teams in the League.  Much like how Two-Face flips his coin to make a decision, I feel like the Texans do as well when deciding whether they are going to be the good Texans, or the bad Texans.

Batman would be a Green Bay Packers Fan:

-This one was hard, but in the end, why would Batman not be a fan of the reigning Super Bowl Champs?  Batman trained for years to become the perfect weapon.  It seems like Aaron Rodgers waited for years to finally get the starting job.  But other than that, the Packers have a complete team on both sides of the ball, just like Batman is a complete fighter.  The Packers may not be the best at any of their positions, but they are solid all around, just like Batman.

The Joker would be a Philadelphia Eagles Fan:

-Madness.  Chaos.  Unpredictable.  These are all words you can use to describe the Joker…and the Philadelphia Eagles.  Michael Vick is the most unconventional QB in the League, but he’s also ridiculously successful.  When you look at the Eagles offense, it’s just crazy.  You have no idea what’s going to happen.  Will Vick throw deep to DeSean Jackson?  Will he hand it off to the dynamic LeSean McCoy?  Will Vick himself run 10 yards?  The way Vick plays is totally insane.  He leaves himself open to injury on every play, like he doesn’t even care.  That’s the Joker!  He’ll do whatever it takes to drive his opposition mad, even if it means taking a massive beating.

Well there you have it.  Now when you watch football on Sundays, you can imagine the Joker wearing an Eagles hat, or Luthor sitting in his office with a Dallas Cowboys jersey.

Movie Review – Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Plot: While trying to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, Will Rodman (James Franco) falls into possession of a baby chimpanzee whose mother was given Will’s experimental drug, making the ape smarter.  Her genetics were passed onto the baby named Caesar, an exceptionally intelligent ape who will later liberate other Apes in this prequel to the original Planet of the Apes.

I was really reluctant towards this movie because Tim Burton’s 2001 remake scared me away from this franchise, even though it has nothing to do with this current version.  But I should have known better.  Look what happened eight years after 1997’s Batman & Robin…we got Batman Begins.  And just like with that franchise, the Apes have risen once again (pardon the pun).  But what shocked me about this film is how character driven it was.  The trailer is very misleading.  You think it’s going to be nothing more than apes ripping apart the city, along with every human in their path.  That’s not at all what happens.

The acting is stellar all around.  I’m not the biggest James Franco fan, and thought his performance in 127 Hours was a tad overrated.  But this is probably the best film he’s ever done.  I’ve never been emotionally invested in any of his characters, but you really care about him in this movie.  Even in a movie called Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of its most engaging stories was a simple one: A man trying to cure his father of Alzheimer’s.  And that relationship fires on all cylinders.  John Lithgow does a great job as Will’s father, and he and Franco play off each other very well.

But let’s stop kidding ourselves.  We all know what the soul of this movie is, and that’s Andy Serkis’ amazing performance as Caesar.  Of course we all know Serkis as the man who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings.  Yeah, it’s CG, but the film simply doesn’t work without Serkis acting the part before the special effects are rendered.  Caesar was always riveting on screen, and he’s practically in the entire film.  There are hundreds of little moments I could talk about, but I’ll have to narrow it down to a few.

Probably my favorite scene in the entire movie is Caesar’s first interaction with other apes.  They all just stare at him as this infinitely smarter creature enters a world he’s never known, and it’s terrifying.  That’s when the character really hits you.  Caesar has been raised by humans, but ultimately can’t live among them.  But he also struggles to live with his own kind.  That’s some powerful stuff.

Another moment I loved is when the caretaker’s (Brian Cox) nasty son (Tom Felton) brings a few friends to the ape cages, and one of the drunken jackasses mocks Caesar.  The stare down Caesar gives this kid was extraordinary.  Not only was it a fantastic special effect, but it illustrated a key character trait.  Now that’s how you do great special effects!  And without spoiling it, there’s a certain something you are waiting for Caesar to do the whole movie, and when that happens, it’s pretty incredible.

What I also loved is how the film makes you feel not only for Caesar, but a couple of the other apes who don’t even get a tenth of the screen time he does.  It’s really towards the end where that comes into play.  And that’s what I mean by this movie being more of a character driven piece rather than sci-fi spectacle.

But don’t worry, you’ll get your action quota.  There’s a truly spectacular battle on the Golden Gate Bridge that really knocks you on your ass.  And the apes don’t attack like you think they would.  It’s more refined and disciplined than what you might expect.  The director Rupert Wyatt is pretty much a new comer here, only having done smaller projects, but he knocks this out of the park.

Now the film isn’t perfect.  The pacing is way too slow.  This is just one of the unfortunate drawbacks to being a prequel to a well established franchise.  The trailer also gives away too much information.  We know where it’s going, and at times I was just like, ‘alright, get on with it already.’

Another criticism I have to give is that it does come off as kind of silly at times.  There are a few moments where I’m staring at all these apes running around and sliding off of buildings and can’t help but snicker.  But really, those moments are barely there.  It’s executed very seriously 99.9% of the time.

While the last few minutes are a bit rushed, leaving the ending a tad unsatisfying, this is a great movie, and definitely the biggest surprise of the summer.  It’s the perfect blending of character development and special effects.  I cared about the humans.  I cared about the apes.  I was invested all the way through.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)      

Movie Review – Cowboys & Aliens

Plot: Set in the Old West, an advanced alien race attacks a small town and kidnaps some of the locals.  A small group heads out to track down the aliens where their only hope of stopping them is an outlaw (Daniel Craig) with no memory, and a powerful weapon attached to his wrist that he may have gotten from the aliens themselves.

What happens when you take a run of the mill cliché western and combine it with a run of the mill cliché alien invasion movie?  You get a run of the mill cliché action movie.  For a film called Cowboys & Aliens, this was an excruciating yawn fest.  There is no pop to this movie.  Everyone looks half asleep, especially our protagonist, Jake Lonergan, played by Daniel Craig.

I get Craig has really intense eyes and looks really cool, but that’s all he does.  He just looks intense throughout the whole movie.  There’s nothing interesting about this character except for the mystery surrounding him because he lost his memory.  And even that gets tiresome and embarrassingly predictable.  And in every scene, director Jon Favreau has to remind us, ‘hey, this guy is a bad ass.’  He always has to punch someone, or take out a group of guys, but there’s nothing clever or interesting about it.  It’s stuff we’ve seen a hundred times, done way better.  And the character barely talks.  Craig flashes his big eyes, and we are just supposed to go, ‘Oh man, Daniel Craig.  What a bad ass.’  Honestly, this movie could have been significantly better if another actor played the role, like a Leonardo DiCaprio or Jeremy Renner.  I put a lot of the blame on this movie to Craig.  There was just nothing there.

As far as the other performances are concerned, Harrison Ford is on auto-pilot as the grisly old war hero Woodrow Dolarhyde.  There’s one scene where he’s talking to this kid (Noah Ringer) whose grandfather was taken by the aliens.  It’s this emotional story about his dad, but I barely remember it because Ford put no effort into this speech whatsoever.  And that’s generally the trend with this film.  It’s just going through the motions.  Now as the film went on, Ford got more into it, and I started to like and sympathize with his character.  And there’s even decent character development between him and Lonergan, but by that point, the movie had lost me.

Two performances I did like though were Sam Rockwell and Paul Dano.  Rockwell is good in everything.  He always elevates the material.  I found myself rooting for his character the most as a guy that always backs down from a fight, but you like him so much, you desperately want to see him become a man by the end.  Dano has a small part as Dolarhyde’s privileged and jackass son, Percy.  Dano brought a lot of life and levity to a film that desperately needed more of it.

I also liked Olivia Wilde, but they make it so obvious from the first second you meet her that there’s going to be a huge plot twist with her character.  And when you find out what it is, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and energy if she just came out and said what her deal was.

And that’s really where the problem comes in.  The pacing is just awful.  Slow is not the right word.  We need a whole new word slower than slow to describe this.  They have to force and shoehorn in so many conflicts that have nothing to do with the main story to draw this out.  There’s a useless scene and a run in with Indians, and an even more pointless stand off with Lonergan’s old gang that I could care less about.  This movie really could have been 80 minutes long.  The fact that it goes on for almost two hours is really unnecessary.

It makes me appreciate a movie like Independence Day that much more.  I’m not going to sit here and say Independence Day is The Godfather, but that movie is nearly two and a half hours long, yet I was never bored.  Why did I not get bored?  It had a lot of charismatic and funny characters with groundbreaking action we had never seen before.  It was a lot of fun.  This is anything but.  They go way too serious with it, and I’m sorry, but the movie is called Cowboys & Aliens…come on!

And speaking of the action, it’s okay.  It’s just average action.  They try and give you jump moments, but I never jumped once.  The action is directed fine, but it’s nothing special.  What I didn’t like was how the Jake Lonergan flashbacks and alien POV shots were filmed.  They looked really silly and kind of shaky cam Blair Witch Project-esque, but just green.  Those did not work for me at all.

Watching this movie makes me think of other sub-par blockbusters this summer like Pirates of the Caribbean: on Stranger Tides and Transformers: Dark of the Moon.  While Cowboys & Aliens never gets to the low points of those films, it’s ultimately a worse movie.  Why is that?  As much as I don’t like Pirates and Transformers, I can at least point out memorable ‘holy crap’ moments like the mermaid scene and the building coming down in Chicago, but I can’t think of one ‘that was awesome’ moment from Cowboys & Aliens.  There isn’t one interesting or cool thing I can recommend about this movie.  There’s some decent acting, but I was bored out of my mind.

Bottom-line: When you keep checking your phone every ten minutes to see when the movie is going to end, I think that means it’s a bad movie.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10 (Bad)