Thursday, October 31, 2013


Rated: R

Stars: Michael Fassbender,  Javier Bardem,  Penelope Cruz,  Cameron Diaz,  Brad Pitt

Director: Ridley Scott

Genre: Crime Thriller/  Drama

Jolly good, then. Let's get to it. Most of the characters in The Counselor are assholes. No, make that stupid assholes. We know that early on because two of them, a drug mogul and his raunchy girlfriend--Javier Bardem and Cameron Diaz--keep cheetahs (with pretty collars) as pets. These folks have nothing to recommend them to any higher authority as having played the game of life with a whit of conscience, decency, or human compassion. And I've always found it strange (because the mentality exists in real life) that people would risk their freedom, and more often than not their lives, for illicit material gain--when they already have fresh air, clothes on their back, food on the table, a roof over their head, a nice dog (or girlfriend) to lick their face...what's missing here besides your sick, twisted obsession to prove to yourself that you are unworthy of happiness?  

Central to this charming tale of unmitigated greed is the defense attorney known only as "Counselor" (Michael Fassbender). He buys his girlfriend (Penelope Cruz) a 3.8 carat diamond ring, then falls in with a big-time drug ring to finance it.  One would think that it takes some smarts to become an attorney . There are multiple times when Counselor is asked if he's sure he wants to get involved in all this nasty business, and he never flinches. Ugh. Big ring make need for big money. Mmmm...what possibly go wrong?

Of course, things start to spiral out of control in short order and the noose begins to tighten around Counselor's neck (a pun I won't spoil if you are indiscriminate enough to plop your money down for this) as the Mexican drug deal he is counting on to save his financial ass goes awry. And somebody has to pay.

Along the way, The Counselor pauses now and again for some pretentious philosophizing about life. The movie is getting slammed for that more than for the fact that it's difficult to keep straight who's connected to whom and just how and why.  Stuff like when Bardem's character, Reiner, says: "Are you really that cold?"  And sleaze-squeeze Malkina (Carmen Diaz) replies: "The truth has no temperature."  The screen heats up, though, when Diaz demonstrates the fruits of her workout ethic by doing  the splits on the windshield of Reiner's Ferrari--grinding panty-less as he observes from inside. (
See artist rendering above!)  Later, when relating the story of the incident, he states: "That kind of thing changes you."

A stellar cast will draw filmgoers to this one just out of curiosity. But Cormac McCarthy's bleak and cynical script (his first screenwriting effort) may turn me into more of a misanthrope than I already am. (For the record, McCarthy's The Road was  the most soulless and depressing book I've ever read. )

Penelope Cruz provides some sweet steaminess. Javier Bardem adds some darkly comic relief. Fassbender is a clueless wonder. Carmen Diaz has an evil-looking face to begin with--she better guard against getting typecast.  Brad Pitt is a drugstore cowboy type who may be the most likable character in the movie.     

But none can save The Counselor  from going down.

Grade: D


Never mind all the things Tim has already pointed out—a disjointed script, red herrings that never get resolved, unsympathetic characters—my main beef with THE COUNSELOR is not about the film per se. It's about the actors—damn fine actors, too—who let themselves be talked into appearing in such mindless drivel. I can understand why Michael Fassbender might say yes to this turkey, given his sexual track record in "Shame." The opening scene between him and Penelope Cruz (Javier Bardem's wife in real life) outdoes itself in the oral sex department.

But it's downhill from there.

I was so confused by who was gunning for whom that I found myself hoping the cheetahs would make a meal out of at least one of these gangsta narcissisistas. About the only good thing I can say about this endlessly talky film is....I'm thinking, I'm thinking!

I liked Carmen Diaz' fake silver fingernails.

Grade: F

Friday, October 25, 2013


Rated: PG-13

Stars: Tom Hanks,  Barkhad Abdi
Director:  Paul Greengrass
Genre:  Action / Thriller

Tom Hanks gets upstaged by a young Somalian immigrant with no prior acting experience. Fancy that. Which is not to say that Hanks doesn't do a hell of a job as the skipper of the  Maersk Alabama in Captain Phillips, based on the true story of the U.S. cargo ship hijacked by Somalian pirates in an international incident that made headlines in 2009. It's just that Muse (Barkhad  Abdi)  is so authentically lean, hungry, and monomaniacal as the leader of the four young psychopaths who commandeer the ship, hoping to garner a big ransom payout.  While it's hard to fathom that this is Abdi's  acting debut, I find it less difficult to speculate that he may have some actual pirating experience on his resume! (A prerequisite for getting the part?) 

Captain Phillips is a full-speed-ahead action tour-de-force.  It never pauses to wax philosophical, or poke around much inside the characters' heads--except for a brief moment  near the tension-filled climax when Phillips looks at Muse and tells him there must be something else he could do with his life. 


It's a gritty and grueling turn for Hanks who, as Captain Richard Phillips,  must try to outwit capricious desperadoes with automatic weapons trained on him as best he can. For the most part, he is up to the challenge. The only stumble is that the Irish accent he is affecting gets totally submerged when he has to shout. The louder he shouts, the more the old familiar Tom Hanks voice that we know and love returns. Not a biggie. You may not even notice it.  But I notice stuff. That's why they pay me the big bucks.  

Going in, I vaguely remembered this incident from four years ago, (a long time for me to try to remember anything) and I didn't recall how it all played out in the end, which I'm certain made this viewing experience more thrilling for me because, as I have stated before, I AM BORED BY HISTORICAL DOCUDRAMAS WHERE I ALREADY KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!!! So I would say that if the Maersk Alabama incident is fuzzy in your head as well, you should enjoy Captain Phillips tremendously!

Grade:  A


If I had to devise an acronymic blurb for CAPTAIN PHILLIPS, it would read: Terrifyingly Exciting Nautical Saga Enthralls! Yes, this film is definitely T-E-N-S-E. I went to see it with two gents who are known to fall asleep during movies, a crime punishable by death in my view. But they didn't snooze in this one. They were both glued to the edge of their seats, eyes wide open, for the entire two hours and thirteen minutes. Tim has already filled you in on the nonfiction plot and the incredible acting job of the lead pirate Barkhad Abdi. As far as memorable villains go, Abdi is right up there with Anthony Hopkins in "Silence Of The Lambs" and Javier Bardem in "No Country For Old Men." His incredible skinniness makes you believe he's the real deal. (I agree with Tim—it's hard to believe this guy hasn't has some actual ship-robbing experience.)

Other reasons that make this film relentlessly tense are Henry Jackman's pounding score and Paul Greengrass' direction, demanding that these richly dark pirates never let up on their hysteria. Of course movies that use any type of closed-in location (ocean liners, submarines, airplanes) have a definite scare-factor advantage. I like to call them "no way out" flicks. And CAPTAIN PHILLIPS in no exception. 

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Tom Hanks. His controlled strength under duress eventually crumbles and that's when we really get to witness the range of his acting chops. If you're a nail-biter, I'd wear gloves to this one!


Thursday, October 3, 2013

RUSH (2013)

Rated:  R

Stars: Daniel Bruhl,  Chris Hemsworth,  Alexandra Maria Lara,  Olivia Wilde

Director: Ron Howard

Genre: Action-Adventure/ Drama

There is a reason why those new car commercials on TV have some stunt driver careening wildly around hairpin curves, and turning doughnuts in a cloud of dust.  It speaks to the inner race car driver (or maniac) in most of us. That's why you don't have to be a racing fan to get off on Rush,  Ron Howard's new film based upon the true story of Niki Lauda and James Hunt--rival drivers at the top of their game on the Formula One racing circuit back in the seventies.There is something primitively sexual about the deafening roar of an engine that will propel you around the track at 170 mph.  That's why race drivers are surrounded by beautiful women. (Danica Patrick, not sure.)  

Hunt and Lauda were polar opposites. Englishman Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) was a pretty boy. A wild party-goer and a womanizer who hacked his guts up at the track before each race--presumably out of nervousness, or maybe it was just carried over from the night before. (And in the name of realism, we get to witness it multiple times.) Lauda, (Daniel Bruhl) an Austrian, was the cold, analytical type  who knew how to tune his cars to make them go just a little faster than the competition. He tried to calculate the odds of getting killed in any given race in terms of a percentage figure.  

With those engines roaring in your ears, jump-cut editing that matches the frenetic pace of the track, and an exhilarating music score from Academy Award (R) winner Hans Zimmer, Rush puts you in the driver's seat to experience all the heart-pounding, bang-up action--and there is plenty of it-- of the 1976 duel between Hunt and Lauda for the Formula One world championship. 

Of course, there's more to the film than that. It's a poignant tale of two rivals who drive each other to be the best that they can be, and in that sense--much like the legendary thoroughbreds Affirmed and Alydar--they feed off of each other 

I did a little research and found that the film sticks pretty close to the facts, except for portraying these guys as snarky adversaries with nary a kind word to utter to one another, at least in the beginning. In truth, Hunt and Lauda were friends. 

I'm going to declare Rush as the Rocky of racing films--in future years I think it will be regarded as such. And in a supporting role, Lauda's wife, Marlene, (Alexandra Maria Lara) makes a fine Adrian, as she gazes upon her man putting his life on the line, 
( forty-nine drivers have perished driving a Formula 1 car) outwardly composed, but her eyes reveal what her body language tries to conceal.

For some, the closer they come to death, the more alive they feel. That would be the only way to explain why these hyped-up adrenalin junkies keep tempting fate the way they do.  Lucky for you, all you need do is survive the city traffic and get to a theater to experience one danged realistic rush of a movie.

As Tim and I were leaving the movie theater, I got to thinking about other car racing movies and couldn't come up with a single one. Whereas horse racing flicks have always been a lucrative staple in the film business. (Or should I say 'stable'?) I decided to type in 'car racing movies' in my search window and, believe it or not, Netflix supplied a bunch of 'em: Dust To Glory, On Any Sunday, Love The Beast, Once Upon A Wheel, Yank Tanks, Octane, to name a few.
More amazing is the fact that I am not familiar with any of these gems. The only other movie I can think of that deals with car-racing--motorcycle racing, actually--was a brilliant movie starring Anthony Hopkins. Like RUSH, it was based on a real person, New Zealander Burt Monro, who spent years building a 1920 Indian motorcycle that helped him set the land-speed world record at Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats in 1967. The name of the movie was The World's Fastest Indian and, like the two rivals in RUSH, the main character was obsessed with speed and winning. 
Although Formula One racing is a subject I know nothing about, I was still hooked on the movie because of these two diametrically different racers. Director Ron Howard made me feel like I, too, was crammed inside one of those pricey machines with Hunt or Lauda. Of course, Howard also took some liberties with reality when he prolonged the tire-changing scenes for dramatic purposes. True racing aficionados would have taken exception to this. 
Despite his brilliance, Daniel Bruhl seemed unfamiliar to me (although he did have a fairly decent part in Inglorious Basterds). I was blown away by how much the actor resembled the real life Niki Lauda pictured at the end of the film.

Grade: B+