Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ben Affleck plays CIA operative Tony Mendez in ARGO.

Argo... For those of you who are huge fans of The Town and other well-made flicks directed and starred by Ben Affleck, check his latest film out. I finally got around to watching Argo late last week, and the biographical thriller did not disappoint. The movie is an intense depiction of the effort made by the Central Intelligence Agency and Canada to rescue six American diplomats who managed to escape the U.S. Embassy and go into hiding during the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Although there is not much to say in terms of the story, since it's based on a true event and we all know how the 1980 rescue effort turned out, the excellent cast that Affleck assembled for his latest film is very worthy to discuss here.

Ben Affleck and Bryan Cranston (who plays CIA supervisor Jack O'Donnell) in ARGO.

Based on a secret mission that was declassified by former president Bill Clinton in 1997, Argo features an exceptional cast that includes Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Alan Arkin and Victor Garber. Cranston—who continues to show what a superb actor he is after his award-winning performance in the hit AMC TV show, Breaking Bad—does an excellent job portraying Jack O'Donnell, the CIA supervisor of Tony Mendez (played by Affleck). Even when the rest of the U.S. government is skeptical about Mendez conjuring up a fake sci-fi movie (called Argo) to get the six diplomats out of Iran, O'Donnell remains supportive of Mendez's plan...especially when Mendez ultimately decides to bring his rescue operation into fruition at the Tehran airport in the movie's climax. Even more integral to the rescue attempt is Hollywood make-up artist John Chambers (played by Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (portrayed by Arkin)...whose influences in Tinseltown would be pivotal in convincing Iranian government officials that Mendez was indeed in Tehran to scout for a "$20 million Star Wars rip-off" (the words of Siegel) with a Canadian film crew. Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor (played by Victor Garber, who made himself known in James Cameron's Titanic and had a brief role in The Town), is the man who allowed the six diplomats to go into hiding inside his embassy during the months-long ordeal—and would be fortuitous enough to initially take all the credit for the diplomats' rescue (nicknamed the Canadian Caper) after they were able to flee from Iran. During the film's end credits, you can see just how awesome a job that Argo's casting director did in selecting actors who looked just like their real-life historic counterparts. And it's great to see that Mendez got to retain the Intelligence Star medal that was secretly awarded to him by the CIA in the wake of Argo's success 32 years ago.

Ben Affleck, Alan Arkin (who plays Lester Siegel) and John Goodman (who portrays John Chambers) in ARGO.

All-in-all, Argo is definitely Best Picture-worthy. I see the film receiving a lot of Academy Award nominations come January, with Affleck continuing to show that he is becoming just as versatile a director/actor as Clint Eastwood and Ron Howard have been for the past two decades or so. Would I say that Argo is my favorite Affleck movie over The Town, you ask? Um, naw. That 2010 bank heist flick was pretty awesome. Oh, and Happy Halloween, everyone! That is all.

Tate Donovan, Rory Cochrane, Clea DuVall, Scoot McNairy, Christopher Denham and Kerry Bishé play six American diplomats who go into hiding in ARGO.

Monday, October 29, 2012

A (fake) image of Hurricane Sandy providing an ominous backdrop behind the Statue of Liberty.
Courtesy of Facebook

Photos of the Day... Is that Hurricane Sandy providing an ominous backdrop behind the Statue of Liberty (no, because the pic above is presumably fake), or a 15-mile-wide alien destroyer barreling down towards the Big Apple? Hmm. Seriously though, I hope everyone on the East Coast stays safe during the real 'Frankenstorm'...

An alien destroyer emerges over New York City in INDEPENDENCE DAY.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A screenshot from the new teaser trailer for IRON MAN 3.

Iron Man 3... As per tradition with big blockbuster movies that I look forward to seeing on opening weekend, just thought I'd post screenshots from the new Iron Man 3 teaser trailer that was officially released online today. And of course, you can view the actual trailer at the bottom of this entry. For the record, I'm indifferent to Ben Kingsley and not a Chinese actor portraying Iron Man 3's main villain, the Mandarin.

Screenshots from the new teaser trailer for IRON MAN 3. Screenshots from the new teaser trailer for IRON MAN 3. Screenshots from the new teaser trailer for IRON MAN 3.

Iron Man 3 gets released in theaters nationwide on May 3, 2013.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Liam Neeson in TAKEN 2.

Taken 2... I saw this action flick on the same day I watched Seven Psychopaths, and as impressed as I was with the dark comedy starring Colin Farrell, I was equally unimpressed with the new film starring Liam Neeson. Basically, Taken 2 was made solely to see Neeson do some fancy martial arts moves on hapless European bad guys...with a story and plot that wasn't given as much attention as the action scenes were. Along with the flawed premise that Neeson would have his family come with him to the one continent where his daughter (played by Maggie Grace) was kidnapped by Albanian sex traffickers in the previous movie, Taken 2 also had some unintentionally funny moments—most of them involving Neeson's wife (played by Famke Janssen). I should've tried counting how many times Neeson told Grace that her mother was "safe" in the film, despite the fact she's still in the lair where Neeson essentially left her to rot after making his own escape; her throat partially slit as she was being held by Albanian kidnappers.

Famke Janssen and Liam Neeson in TAKEN 2.

Another laughable moment was towards the end of the film...when Neeson finally confronts the main villain (who's probably the weakest villain I've ever seen on the big screen) who arranged the plot to have Neeson eliminated to avenge the death of the bad guy's son in the first movie. Played by Rade Serbedzija, this bad guy cowered near the corner of a wall as Neeson tells him that he's "tired" of so easily dispatching all the goons that Serbedzija sent after him throughout the flick. (Neeson was basically an Irish Jet Li in the film.) Obviously realizing that he's an imbecile for trying to take revenge, Serbedzija's character listened as Neeson offered to give him mercy by merely walking away. Of course, with him being an imbecile and all, Serbedzija's character instead tries to shoot Neeson with the gun that the ex-CIA operative placed on the ground as a peace gesture. Needless to say, it doesn't end well for Taken 2's main baddie after that.

Maggie Grace in TAKEN 2.

There are other flaws that I can point out (such as Neeson shooting a Turkish police officer in the movie and effortlessly getting away with it, and Grace buying ice cream with her dad immediately after passing her driving test... Um, I think you have to go back into the DMV office to get your interim driver's license printed out, first), but I'll leave it to the ones I pointed out in the previous paragraphs and the parentheses above. I wish Taken 2 could've been better...but hey, at least Neeson was genuinely awesome as Qui-Gon Jinn in The Phantom Menace, and training and then trying to kill Batman in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. Can't win 'em all.

Liam Neeson takes on Albanian bad guys in TAKEN 2.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Colin Farrell, Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.

Seven Psychopaths... I watched the dark comedy starring Colin Farrell as a booze-drinking screenwriter with Sam Rockwell as his dog-stealing best friend earlier this week, and I must say...this is a great flick. I like films whose story is based on a fictional film being written in the actual film itself (seeing as how I myself have written a few scripts with movie-within-a-movie plotlines in the past). Seven Psychopaths has a formidable cast, with Woody Harrelson as the mob boss whose dog, a beloved Shih Tzu, is unwittingly stolen by Rockwell in one of his canine-kidnapping schemes, Christopher Walken as Rockwell's dog-napping partner who also has a dark past (concealed by a handkerchief wrapped around his neck), Abbie Cornish as Farrell's girlfriend who ends up dumping him early on in the movie, and Olga Kurylenko as Harrelson's girlfriend who's dispatched by the first of the Seven Psychopaths: A serial killer known as the "Jack O'Diamonds".


In terms of the Seven Psychopaths themselves, they are an interesting bunch: the Jack O'Diamonds, a Quaker bent on (non-violent) revenge, Charlie Costello (played by Harrelson), a Vietnamese priest who vows vengeance after his family is killed in the 1968 My Lai Massacre, a pet rabbit-owning serial killer who travels around the country killing other serial killers, an African-American girl—who's married to the rabbit owner—that murders serial killers as well, and Billy Bickle (played by Rockwell)...who also happens to be the Jack O'Diamonds.

Woody Harrelson and Olga Kurylenko in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.

The most memorable of the seven psychopaths is Billy Bickle himself. More hilarious than he is intimidating, Bickle does all that he can to help Marty Faranan (played by Farrell) develop his screenplay, Seven Psychopaths...even if it means donning a red ski mask and going out and about eliminating Italian mobsters. The funniest scene in the movie is when Bickle—who along with Marty and Hans (played by Walken) are hiding in the desert because of Charlie Costello—comes up with an action-packed conclusion to Marty's screenplay. Won't elaborate on the details, but it involves a shootout that also includes the Vietnamese priest using a flamethrower, the Jack O'Diamonds using a crossbow along with firearms to neutralize Costello's men, and Kaya (played by Cornish) abruptly entering the scene wearing a very wet T-shirt with nothing underneath. Twisted, I know.


Staying true to the movie-within-a-movie motif, the climax of Seven Psychopaths (the actual movie, that is) does end in a shootout...but not one as wacky and epic as the version that Billy Bickle conjured up. Seven Psychopaths is a very quirky film, and if you like quirky films, then you should definitely check this one out. Of course, another reason why I like this movie is because I worked on it as a background actor earlier this year. Yes, I spotted myself onscreen. Will have to wait till the DVD comes out to provide proof to y'all. Carry on.

Billy Bickle (played by Rockwell) comes up with the ultimate climax to a movie in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Photos of the Day... Technically, Leo said "I'm the king of the world" in Titanic, but it's all good.

Jack Dawson ain't got nuthin' on Felix Baumgartner.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) confronts his older self (played by Bruce Willis) in LOOPER.

Looper... Earlier this week, I watched the new sci-fi film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels. It was $6 well-spent (I attended a matinee screening of the flick). Looper is an excellent movie about a hit man (a.k.a. a 'looper') named Joe (Gordon-Levitt) who's paid to eliminate targets sent to the past (Joe's present day) via time machine. Needless to say, things start to go wrong for Joe as he carries out his dirty work...and is suddenly confronted with executing someone who's obviously very important to his own life: himself. Bruce Willis plays an older version of Joe, and when the two finally confront each other, all hell breaks loose.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt in LOOPER.

Not only does Looper convey the interesting theme of what people do when they confront an older version of themselves (obviously not possible...currently), and are forced to kill them, the movie also presents such other themes as a man bent on seeking revenge for the death of his wife, and how far a mother named Sara (Blunt) will go to protect her own son. Not only is time travel possible in the world of Looper, but so is telekinesis...which plays a major part in why Sara (Blunt sports a nice American accent portraying this character) is both fearful and protective of her son. And why Bruce Willis' Joe goes to the past to eliminate—well, I won't spoil this part of the movie for you.

Sara (played by Emily Blunt) is both fearful and protective of her son in LOOPER.

Unlike more genial time travel flicks like Back to the Future, Looper treats the ability to visit the past as something totally not to be trifled with. Time travel is banned in the realm of Looper...with only the criminal underworld taking advantage of this volatile technology (one gang using time travel for nefarious purposes being the one led by Abe, played by Jeff Daniels). As mentioned at the start of this paragraph, Looper is not really a feel-good film...and it ends on both a dreary and heartfelt note. It's heartfelt in that Sara goes through all lengths—including risking her own life—to save her own son, and it's dreary in that Gordon-Levitt's Joe—realizing that his own personal actions (including those committed by his older self) will lead to a cycle of pain and anger—chooses to perform the ultimate sacrifice to ensure that the misdeeds of his past (and future) won't cause any more harm to those closest to him. Intense stuff. Which is why you should check out Looper if you haven't done so already.

A criminal kingpin named Abe (played by Jeff Daniels) uses time travel for his own nefarious purposes in LOOPER.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña play two officers of the Los Angeles Police Department in END OF WATCH.

End of Watch... Earlier today, I watched the new film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as two officers of the Los Angeles Police Department who cross paths with members of a Mexican drug cartel. If you're a fan of such TV shows as Southland and other cop dramas, then this is the movie for you. End of Watch is totally intense and also very funny (intentionally, that is)... Some of the best moments in the flick are when Brian Taylor (played by Gyllenhaal) and Mike Zavala (played by Peña) pit both good-natured and self-deprecating jokes against each other while patrolling the streets of L.A. in their police cruiser. This film is about friendship, family and brotherhood, and Gyllenhaal and Peña convincingly convey these three themes even as the dangers they face continue to become more potent as they run into suspects that prompt other LAPD officers to tell Taylor and Zavala to "watch your six."

Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick in END OF WATCH.

While light-hearted scenes featuring Gyllenhaal's girlfriend (played by Anna Kendrick) and Zavala's wife (portrayed by Natalie Martinez) are definitely welcomed, the highlights of the film are, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, when the two cops run into various criminals of all walks of life in the City of Angels. In the opening scene of End of Watch, Taylor and Zavala engage in a car chase whose conclusion ends up making heroes out of the two officers—causing Taylor in particular to become bolder in his pursuit of suspects that he and Zavala should otherwise not be confronting alone. This recklessness eventually causes the patrolmen to gain the attention of the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico...leading to a climax that most decisively doesn't weigh in the favor of the two LAPD officers.

America Ferrera plays an LAPD officer in END OF WATCH.

Even though the climax of End of Watch is not a happy one (unless, of course, you're rooting for the drug cartel), the movie goes back to the aforementioned themes of friendship, family and brotherhood...with the final scene of the flick being of Taylor and Zavala having a funny conversation in their police cruiser about Taylor not allowing his daughter to date anyone when she grows up. Of course, this particular scene is not necessarily happening in the present day—as Taylor and Zavala wore portable digital cameras on their cop uniforms to record their on-street exploits throughout most of the film (since Taylor is working on a personal 'project' that isn't elaborated on). The final scene of End of Watch is meant to remind us that two police officers have essentially become brothers while working together to make their city safer. End of Watch is a gritty, well-made film, and it should be watched if you enjoy stories about cops who forge a close bond even while they're putting their lives at risk performing in the line of duty.

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña in END OF WATCH.