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Friday, January 31, 2014

Batman vs. Superman...

The logo for 2016's BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN.

So it was announced earlier today that Jesse Eisenberg (of Zombieland and The Social Network fame) and Jeremy Irons will appear in the 2016 sequel to last year's Man of Steel. Eisenberg will play nemesis Lex Luthor in Batman vs. Superman, while Irons replaces Michael Caine (and the late Michael Gough before him) as Alfred. While I'm cool with Irons playing Bruce Wayne's trusty butler, it obviously remains to be seen how Eisenberg will do as Superman's arch-enemy. Either this will be the greatest casting choice for a comic book villain since Heath Ledger was announced as The Dark Knight's Joker in 2006, or...fans will simultaneously complain about this and Ben Affleck donning the Bat cowl for the next year or so.

Jesse Eisenberg, shown here in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, will play Lex Luthor in 2016's BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN.

A big question remains: Will Eisenberg shave his head or don a skull cap as he takes on the role of Kal-El's bald adversary? Or will Luthor look like Eisenberg's wacky doppelgänger (Andy Samberg) from the FOX TV show Brooklyn Nine-Nine? We'll see.

Jeremy Irons will play Alfred in 2016's BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit...

Cathy Muller (Keira Knightley) and Jack Ryan (Chris Pine) are introduced to a life of espionage in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT.

Earlier today, I watched the latest installment chronicling the cinematic exploits of Tom Clancy’s popular CIA analyst, Jack Ryan. Directed by Kenneth Branagh (who also plays the movie’s main antagonist, Viktor Cherevin) and featuring Chris Pine as the title character once portrayed by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, respectively, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit revolves around a rogue Russian cell trying to wreak havoc on the United States through economic and terrorist means. Along with making a passing reference to the September 11, 2001 attacks, Shadow Recruit also has a theme that plays on insider trading and other shady acts by Wall Street that helped start America’s Great Recession six years ago. Factoring all of this together, Shadow Recruit is a smart espionage and action thriller that is almost on the same level as previous Clancy-inspired flicks like Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

Thomas Harper (Kevin Costner), Jack Ryan's mentor, tries to thwart a terrorist plot on U.S. soil in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT.

There wasn’t any major gripe I had with Shadow Recruit, except maybe for Keira Knightley as Jack Ryan's girlfriend, Cathy Muller. Performance-wise, she was great... However, despite the fact she pulled off a nice American accent in the movie, I couldn’t help but think of Knightley suddenly speaking in a British drawl that obviously defined her characters in such movies as the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and the 2005 action-crime flick, Domino. Other than this, Knightley was commendable, and Chris Pine was as adept to playing the well-known government spy as he was portraying Captain Kirk in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek films. Even though Tom Clancy is sadly no longer around to churn out great military literature from which these movies can be made, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit shows that as long as the series is in the capable hands of a filmmaker like Branagh and a cast that features talent like Pine, Knightley, Kevin Costner (as government agent Thomas Harper) and Branagh himself, Jack Ryan will continue to be an enthralling agent on the big screen. Maybe not as enthralling as a certain British spy who goes by the code number 007, but riveting nonetheless.

Viktor Cherevin (Kenneth Branagh) is a rogue Russian agent out to cripple the U.S. through economic and terrorist means in JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The 86th Annual Academy Award Nominations...

Mission Specialist Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) tries to seek refuge at the damaged International Space Station in GRAVITY.

Earlier today, the nominees for this year's Oscars were announced by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...with the sci-fi thriller Gravity and the crime drama American Hustle leading the way with 10 nominations each. Both flicks are up for Best Picture, Director (Alfonso Cuarón for Gravity and David O. Russell for Hustle) and Actress (Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Amy Adams for Hustle), as well as technical categories like Film Editing and Production Design. Gravity also got a nod for Visual Effects—which it should surely win over competitors like Iron Man 3 and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.

The cast of AMERICAN HUSTLE.

Peter Berg's Navy SEAL flick Lone Survivor got recognized for its audio work by getting nominations for Best Sounding Editing and Mixing. In terms of other Best Picture contenders, 12 Years a Slave was third in receiving the most nominations with 9 nods. With regards to the acting categories, Jonah Hill continues to shed his Superbad image by winning a second Best Supporting Actor nomination...this time for Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street (Hill's first nomination was for Moneyball two years ago). Another nomination in that category that didn't surprise me at all was for Barkhad Abdi—who went from auditioning for Captain Phillips (another Best Picture candidate) with his close friends in Minneapolis to getting rave reviews for his intimidating portrayal of a Somali pirate in that film (with his Minneapolis friends getting cast as his marauding gang by director Paul Greengrass as well).

Aboard the MV Maersk Alabama, Muse (Barkhad Abdi) and his gang of Somali pirates search for Captain Richard Phillips' crew in CAPTAIN PHILLIPS.

This year's Academy Awards look to be an exciting one to watch—though I've yet to view 12 Years a Slave, The Wolf of Wall Street and other Best Picture nominees like Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska and Philomena at the theater. However, with the amount of nods that Gravity and American Hustle received today, I may have already watched the likely flick to win the crown for best movie of 2013...so I'm probably not missing out on anything. We'll see. The Oscars air on ABC on March 2.

Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch play four Navy SEALS who fight for their lives after their mission is compromised in Afghanistan, in LONE SURVIVOR.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lone Survivor...

Taylor Kitsch, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster and Emile Hirsch play four Navy SEALS who fight for their lives after their mission is compromised in Afghanistan, in LONE SURVIVOR.

I watched Peter Berg's latest action flick starring Mark Wahlberg earlier today, and all I can say is, it was intense. Lone Survivor follows in the tradition of Zero Dark Thirty and 2001's Black Hawk Down in showing the triumphant and sometimes tragic exploits of U.S. Special Forces in a movie that was wide-released in early January. Survivor doesn't have any political undertones like those aforementioned films, but it does bring to mind the fact that American soldiers should no longer see combat in Afghanistan by the end of this year—when pretty much all of of the U.S. military will pull out of the Central Asian country after 13 years of fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Speaking of the Taliban, Survivor never mentions what happened to the chief warlord, Ahmad Shah, who was behind the June 2005 ambush that led to the deaths of three Navy SEALs and 16 fellow soldiers aboard a Chinook helicopter. (Upon doing some research online, Shah was killed in a shootout with Pakistani police in April of 2008.)

Gulab (Ali Suliman) played a role in getting Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg) rescued by U.S. forces in LONE SURVIVOR.

While the amount of casualties that the U.S. sustained on that single day in 2005 was one of the most horrific in the 12-plus-year Afghan war, the reason why Lone Survivor got made was obviously because of the heroism that the SEALs displayed during their ill-fated mission, Operation Red Wings. 19 American troops lost their lives during this sortie (which is eerily the same amount of casualties that U.S. Special Forces sustained in Mogadishu, Somalia during the events shown in Black Hawk Down)...but between 100-150 Afghan insurgents were casualties during this firefight. It's because of this that Berg fittingly began Lone Survivor with a montage of photos showing SEAL recruits going through 'Hell Week' as they trained to become some of the most disciplined and deadliest soldiers in the world; and why we shouldn't forget those brave men who gave their lives to serve this country on that fateful day. But since this is a movie review, I'd also like to point out that the action scenes were nicely done, and the location scouts did a great job finding places in New Mexico that closely emulated the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. I'm sure the scenery was enhanced by visual effects houses like Industrial Light & Magic—which worked on the movie and was most likely responsible for creating digital facsimiles of such assets as the AH-64 Apache choppers that would come to the rescue in Survivor's climax.

An AC-130 Spectre gunship fires its side cannons at Afghan insurgents attacking a village where Marcus Luttrell has taken refuge in LONE SURVIVOR.

As the 2010 flick The Green Zone and even his 2012 sci-fi film Battleship have shown, Peter Berg loves portraying the U.S. military in an exciting light on the big screen, and Lone Survivor is no different. But it's also a tale about facing the ultimate cost of serving one's country. Whether it's fighting a rogue warlord in Afghanistan or eliminating Osama bin Laden in neighboring Pakistan, the Navy SEALs should be commended for taking on the most dangerous assignments in the name of helping to make our country (and the world, if you want me to get overly dramatic) a safer place. That is all.

Marcus Luttrell embraces an Afghan boy who helped him seek refuge in an Afghan village prior to the arrival of U.S. forces, in LONE SURVIVOR.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues...

Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) walk the streets of New York in ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

"Who the hell is Julius Caesar? You know I don't follow the NBA!" So were the enlightened words of Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) to his wife Veronica (Christina Applegate) as things soured between the news-reporting power couple at the beginning of Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. I actually watched this movie quite a while back (on New Year's Eve, to be exact), but this flick was much too hilarious to just forget and not write a review about. There were so many great one-liners (besides the one at the start of this entry)...including this quote by Champ Kind (David Koechner) to Burgundy as he confronted his fiery new boss (played by Meagan Good) at the GNN TV station: "Do what every man has been doing for the past thousands of years and punch her in the face!" This is probably funny to everyone except pacifists and feminists who are easily enraged.

Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) and Chani Lastnamé (Kristen Wiig) share a moment in ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

There were lots of memorable scenes in Anchorman 2—from Champ Kind showing off his restaurant's signature dish of fried bat and Burgundy nursing a young great white shark (named Doby) back to health to Brick Tamland's (Steve Carell) odd encounter with his co-worker Chani Lastnamé (Kristen Wiig...who is as wacky in this movie as she is normal in Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) at a laundromat. But the best moment of Anchorman 2 is obviously at the end, when so many awesome cameos take place by actors who you would least expect to participate in Ferrell's on-screen antics. Do you want me to name some of these actors? I'll give you a hint: One guest star was Bruce Wayne's mentor in Batman Begins and the other was his love interest in The Dark Knight Rises. And another actor saved the world in 1996's Independence Day.

Linda Jackson (Meagan Good) is Ron Burgundy's fiery new boss at the GNN TV station, in ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

Even without the surprise cameos at the finale of Anchorman 2, this movie has a great cast—ranging from Harrison Ford as Ferrell's boss (Ford's appearance should count as a cameo, actually) prior to Meagan Good showing up on the scene to James Marsden showboating as Burgundy's rival newscaster, Jack Lime...a.k.a. Jack Lame. And let's not forget about Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), whose love of taking pictures for kitten calendars is about as neurotic as him using snake venom for a cologne. I don't remember much about the first Anchorman movie (since The Legend of Ron Burgundy got released in theaters 10 years ago), but I do know that its sequel is leaps and bounds more entertaining than that film. Props to Ferrell, Carell, Koechner, Rudd, Applegate and company for upholding the mantra: Good things come to those who wait. Now when does Anchorman 3: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Rises open in theaters? Carry on.

Ron Burgundy, Champ Kind (David Koechner), Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) strike a pose in ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones...

Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is the latest victim of a demonic cult in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES.

"It's about time someone busted a cap in those demonic women's asses!" So were the words that popped into my head after Arturo (Richard Cabral) pulled out a shotgun and blasted away two possessed ladies in the climax of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I watched the latest sequel in the mockumentary-style horror saga today, and I liked how this movie was a departure from the four previous films. (FYI, this isn't officially the fifth Paranormal Activity movie; that one is scheduled to be released in theaters this October.) Namely, we see folks such as Arturo welding weapons to take on the supernatural (yea, too bad Sam and Dean Winchester aren't around to lend some help)...and a new phenomena is introduced in The Marked Ones that should be featured in Paranormal Activity 5 and subsequent installments as well. What is this phenomena, you ask? A portal that allows one to teleport and also travel in time.

Surviving the events of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2, Ali (Molly Ephraim) knows what the demonic cult is up to in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones takes place in Oxnard, California (whereas previous flicks take place near San Diego), with a predominantly Latino cast in this movie. Andrew Jacobs plays the possessed victim named Jesse, while Jorge Diaz is Hector...the camera guy who—like the videographers in the previous flicks—will live to become the last one to survive a demonic onslaught in the film's finale, with Gabrielle Walsh and Renee Victor playing his hapless family members. To ensure that this flick ties in with the rest of the Paranormal Activity movies, Katie Featherston makes an appearance as well...along with Ali (played by Molly Ephraim), who survived the events of Paranormal Activity 2. I like how The Marked Ones, even with a completely different ensemble cast, still expands on the cult that the bloodline of Katie (played by Featherston) was involved with for several generations. In terms of that portal, I definitely want to see how it comes into play in future movies. Presumably, its use will most likely be in scenes that will scare the crap out of moviegoers inside the auditorium. Can't wait to check it out.

Obvious Comment of the Day: If you run into someone who looks like this inside a darkened room, run like hell in the opposite direction.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

American Hustle...

Amy Adams and Christian Bale play two con artists in AMERICAN HUSTLE.

Happy New Year, everyone! Just thought I'd start off 2014 by posting a quick review of David O. Russell's latest flick. While it didn't impress me as much as last year's Silver Linings Playbook (also directed by Russell) did, American Hustle is still an entertaining film. How could it not be when you have Christian Bale and Jeremy Renner squaring off against Bradley Cooper (and Robert De Niro, briefly), and Amy Adams is just a heartbeat away from getting into a catfight with Jennifer Lawrence? This is a great ensemble cast that you have here...but it's Christian Bale and Amy Adams who steal the show. Lawrence almost has the same sultry persona that won her an Oscar for Playbook last February, but Adams conveys more of a wild side with the way that she interacts with Bale and Cooper in the movie. Well that, and Adams is scantily clad for 95% of the film.

Jennifer Lawrence and Amy Adams square off in AMERICAN HUSTLE.

Story-wise, American Hustle is your typical con artist flick that is on the same level as the Ocean's Eleven trilogy, as well as Danny Boyle's recent movie, Trance. It's the star power brought by Bale (sporting a beer belly and an elaborate comb-over here) and his fellow Oscar winners/nominees that make Hustle a formidable film. I wouldn't be surprised if Bale is up for Best Actor and Adams for Best Actress in this year's Academy Awards, with Cooper and Lawrence (most likely Lawrence) getting similar nods in the Best Supporting categories. We'll find out come January 16...when the nominations are officially announced by the Academy. And in case you're wondering if American Hustle is based on a true story, some of it actually happened. That is all.

Bradley Cooper and Jeremy Renner round out the formidable cast of AMERICAN HUSTLE.