Archive for Edward Norton

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Posted in Comedy, Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 11, 2015 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Prologue

In the present, a teenage girl approaches a monument to a writer in a cemetery. In her arms is a memoir penned by a character known only as “The Author”. She starts reading a chapter from the book. The Author begins narrating the tale from his desk in 1985 about a trip he made to the Grand Budapest Hotel in 1968.

Located in the Republic of Zubrowka, a fictional Central European state ravaged by war and poverty, the Young Author discovers that the remote mountainside hotel has fallen on hard times. Many of its lustrous facilities are now in a poor state of repair, and its guests are few. The Author encounters the hotel’s elderly owner, Zero Moustafa, one afternoon, and they agree to meet later that evening. Over dinner in the hotel’s enormous dining room, Mr. Moustafa tells him the tale of how he took ownership of the hotel and why he is unwilling to close it down.

Part 1 – M. Gustave

The story begins in 1932 during the hotel’s glory days when the young Zero was a lobby boy, freshly arrived in Zubrowka after his hometown was razed and his entire family executed. Zero acquires a girlfriend, Agatha, who is a professional pastry chef and proves very resourceful. Zubrowka is on the verge of war, but this is of little concern to Monsieur Gustave H., the Grand Budapest’s devoted concierge. The owner of the hotel is unknown and only relays important messages through the lawyer Deputy Kovacs. When he is not attending to the needs of the hotel’s wealthy clientele or managing its staff, Gustave courts a series of aging women who flock to the hotel to enjoy his “exceptional service”. One of the ladies is Madame Céline Villeneuve “Madame D” Desgoffe und Taxis, with whom Gustave spends the night prior to her departure.

Part 2 – Madame C.V.D.u.T.

One month later, Gustave is informed that Madame D has died under mysterious circumstances. Taking Zero along, he races to her wake and the reading of the will, where Kovacs, coincidentally the executor of the will, reveals that in her will she has bequeathed to Gustave a very valuable painting, Boy with Apple. This enrages her family, all of whom hoped to inherit it. Her son, Dmitri Desgoffe und Taxis, lashes out at Gustave. With the help of Zero, Gustave steals the painting and returns to the Grand Budapest, securing the painting in the hotel’s safe. During the journey, Gustave makes a pact with Zero: in return for the latter’s help, he makes Zero his heir. Shortly thereafter, Gustave is arrested and imprisoned for the murder (by strychnine) of Madame D after forced testimony by Serge X, Madame D’s butler, about seeing Gustave in her house on a particular night. Gustave tells Zero he has an alibi for that night but could never cite his aristocratic lady bedfellow in court. Upon arriving in prison, Gustave finds himself stuck in a cell with hardened criminals, but earns their respect after he “beat the shit” out of one of them for “challenging [his] virility”.

Part 3 – Check-point 19 Criminal Internment Camp

Zero aids Gustave in escaping from Zubrowka’s prison by sending a series of stoneworking tools concealed inside cakes made by Zero’s fiancée Agatha. Along with a group of convicts including Ludwig, Gustave digs his way out of his cell with the help of the tools. The group narrowly escape capture after one of them sacrifices himself to kill a large posse of guards with his “throat-slitter” and Ludwig and his crew escape by car after wishing Gustave and Zero well. Gustave then teams up with Zero to prove his innocence.

Part 4 – The Society of the Crossed Keys

Gustave and Zero are pursued by J. G. Jopling, a cold-blooded assassin working for Dmitri, who chops off Kovacs’ fingers on his right hand and kills him when he refuses to work with Dmitri. Gustave calls upon Monsieur Ivan, a concierge and fellow member of the Society of the Crossed Keys, a fraternal order of concierges who attempt to assist other members. Through the help of Ivan, Gustave and Zero travel to a mountaintop monastery where they meet with Serge, the only person who can clear Gustave of the murder accusations, but Serge is strangled by a pursuing Jopling before he can reveal a piece of important information regarding a second will from Madame D. Zero and Gustave steal a sled and chase Jopling as he flees the monastery on skis. During a face-off at the edge of a cliff, Zero pushes the assassin to his death and rescues Gustave.

Part 5 – The Second Copy of the Second Will

Back at the Grand Budapest, the outbreak of war is imminent, and the military have commandeered the hotel and are in the process of converting it into a barracks. A heartbroken Gustave vows to never again pass the threshold. Agatha joins the two and agrees to find a way to go inside – by delivering pastries – and retrieve the painting. Unluckily Dmitri comes at the same moment and discovers her. A chase and a chaotic gunfight ensue before Zero and Agatha flee with the painting (which had been hidden, still wrapped up, in the hotel safe). Gustave’s innocence is finally proven by the discovery of the copy of Madame D’s second will, which was duplicated by Serge before it was destroyed, and which he subsequently hid in the back of the painting. This will was to take effect only if she was murdered. The identity of Madame D’s murderer and how Gustave is proved innocent are left ambiguous (though earlier in the film a suspicious bottle labeled “strychnine” can be seen on Jopling’s desk). The will also reveals that she was the owner of the Grand Budapest. She leaves much of her fortune, the hotel, and the painting to Gustave, making him wealthy in the process, and he becomes one of the hotel’s regular guests while appointing Zero as the new concierge. Zero and Agatha marry while Dimitri dissapears.

Epilogue

After the war, which it is implied Zubrowka lost, the country is annexed. During a train journey across the border, soldiers inspect Gustave’s and Zero’s papers. Zero describes Gustave being taken out and shot after defending Zero (whom the soldiers had attempted to arrest for his immigrant status), as he did on the initial train ride in the beginning of the movie. Agatha succumbs to “the Prussian Grippe” and dies two years later, as does her infant son. Zero inherits the fortune Gustave leaves behind and vows to continue his legacy at the Grand Budapest, but a subsequent Communist revolution in Zubrowka and the ravages of time slowly begin to take their toll on both the building and its owner as Zero is forced to “contribute” his entire inheritance to the government to keep the dying hotel in business. In a touch of irony, the painting Zero and Gustave fought so desperately to take now sits on a wall, forgotten and crooked.

Back in 1968, Mr. Moustafa confesses to the Author that the real reason that he cannot bring himself to close the hotel has nothing to do with his loyalty to Gustave, or as a connection to “his world,” but because it is his last remaining link to his beloved Agatha and the best years of his life. He theorizes that Gustave’s world was gone long before he was ever in it, but he maintained the illusion quite well. Before departing to his room, Mr. Moustafa gives the Author a key to the “M. Gustave Suite” and readjusts the crooked painting. The Young Author later departs for South America and never returns to the hotel.

In 1985, the Author completes his memoirs beside his grandson.

Back in the present, the girl continues reading in front of the statue of the Author, a sign that Zero and Gustave’s story and that of the hotel will live on.

REVIEW:

In all of the Oscar talk this season, The Grand Budapest Hotel seems to have been lost in the shuffle. Granted, there is quite an array of really good films for the picking. So, the question is, why is this a contender at all, right?

What is this about?

Between the world wars, Gustave H, the concierge at a prestigious European hotel, takes a bellboy named Zero as a trusted protégé. Meanwhile, the upscale guests are involved in an art theft and a dispute over a vast family fortune.

What did I like?

Tone. Since this is one of the films that was up for many awards this season, I expected it to be another of those super serious, depressing dramas that tend to be the norm. Much to my surprise, this was very light-hearted and fun. The tone was something akin to Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, where there is an obvious “heavy” story, but it is told as something more of a farce, for lack of a more appropriate term. The light tone really appealed to me and kept my interest, as I’m sure it has others who need a break from all these dark pictures we have these days.

Dark lord has humor. Even before he became known as Voldemort, from the Harry Potter films, I don’t think anyone would have accused Ralph Fiennes of being a comedic actor. He just doesn’t have the look, but he is capable of pulling off some comedy. I always enjoy the shock of seeing someone not associated with a certain type of acting pull it off so well. Now, I’m not saying Fiennes needs to go star in an Adam Sandler/Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart type film, but he does have some comedic chops, and I just want to give him props for that.

Structure. I really was able to appreciate that this film was set up with chapters. Everything from the way F. Murray Abraham (isn’t this guy like 1,000 by now?) set up the story to the interesting ways in which the chapter titles were shown to the seamless transitions was masterfully done.

What didn’t I like?

Hotel. For a film that has the hotel name as the title, we sure see very little of it. Yes, there a quite a few scenes that take place in this majestic living space, but the “meat and potatoes” of the picture are set elsewhere. I don’t know, I guess I just would have preferred for everything to be more centralized, much like The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (which I initially thought this was a sequel to…HAHA!)

Nazi clones. It is obvious that this is a picture set during the war, so I have to wonder why not use actual Nazis? Is that product placement now? Or does this take place in some alternate universe where a group of people who are the same organization, just with a slightly different insignia, bring about war, death, and worse. There was something else I watched recently that did the same thing, so I really am curious if there was some odd edict from the motion picture association banning the use of Nazis.

Gustave’s end. I wasn’t satisfied with Gustave’s end. Well, I take that back. It was the face that we didn’t get to see it happen and it was just told, as if rushing through the final stanza. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the way he meets his end seems like the stuff of legend, and a fitting end considering what he was doing and who he was doing it for. Why not show that? I just don’t understand!!!

Final thoughts on The Grand Budapest Motel? Two things. First, it is obvious this is one of the best films of the year. Great script, acting, cinematography…everything. However, in comparison to the other contenders is does come off as a weaker entry, an underdog, if you will. The cast is great, even with some big names playing such cameo-esque roles. Do I recommend this? Yes. Yes, I do!

4 3/4 out of 5 stars

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Leaves of Grass

Posted in Comedy, Independent, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2014 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film opens with Bill Kincaid (Edward Norton) lecturing his class at Brown University about Plato’s Socratic dialogues, and discussing Greek philosophy. He dismisses the class and then meets up with his student, Anne (Lucy DeVito). Anne attempts to have sex with Bill, which he refuses. A coworker enters the room, and talks to Bill about an upcoming meeting he is having with Harvard associates.

Brady Kincaid (also played by Edward Norton) is down South lecturing two drug dealers who work for Pug Rothbaum (Richard Dreyfuss). Brady grows and sells all natural marijuana. He explains that he has no intention of expanding his sales, despite needing money to repay a debt to Rothbaum. Meanwhile, Bill talks with Dean Sorensen (Ty Burrell) about a job at Harvard in which philosophy would be included in their law school. Bill leaves, and on his way back to Brown, his brother’s partner Bolger (Tim Blake Nelson) tells Bill that Brady has died from a crossbow arrow. Bill flies to Tulsa, meeting a Jewish orthodontist on the plane.

Bill arrives in Tulsa, and Bolger is waiting outside to pick him up. Bill is mistaken for Brady at the Broken Bow Market, and is beat up and knocked unconscious by marijuana dealers angry that Brady has taken half their territory. When Bill wakes, he is being looked after by Brady. Brady tells Bill that he is getting married and having a baby, and guilts Bill into staying. Brady persuades Bill to try his marijuana. Brady asks Bill to pretend to be Brady while he goes up state to take care of Rothbaum. Bill meets Janet (Keri Russell) at a party at Brady’s, and is immediately smitten with her. Later that night, Bill agrees to Brady’s proposal.

Bill accompanies Janet catching catfish. Janet drives Bill to the old folks home to make amends with his mother. Bill argues with his mother about her lack of mothering.

Bolger and Brady go to Rothbaum’s synagogue in Tulsa, where Rabbi Zimmerman (Maggie Siff) is giving a sermon. Ken Feinman (Josh Pais), the orthodontist Bill met on the plane, mistakes Brady for Bill. Rothbaum spots Brady, and tells him they will talk elsewhere. Brady and Bolger meet with Rothbaum at his compound, where Rothbaum demands his money. When Rothbaum threatens to kill them if they don’t have his money, Bolger shoots Rothbaum’s thugs, and Brady stabs Rothbaum. They head to the Broken Bow Market, and attack the people who beat up Bill. Upon returning home, Bill has figured out that Brady killed Rothbaum. After an argument, Bill is called and told that his teaching is suspended, due to the earlier situation with Anne.

In Tulsa, Ken Feinman (Josh Pais) hears of Rothbaum’s murder and figures everything out. He purchases a gun and sets off for Brady’s house. Ken accuses Brady of the murder. He tells Bill and Brady that he needs money, as his orthodontist career is failing. Bill stares the gun-wielding Ken down, and both prepare to leave. Brady and Bolger won’t let Ken leave, and Ken shoots Brady in the chest. Bill shoots Ken in retaliation. The police arrive. Brady takes the gun so Bill isn’t blamed for the murder. Brady dies.

At Brady’s funeral, Bill shares that Brady was responsible for the best times of his life, and explains the regret and difficulty of leaving everything behind. Bolger takes Bill up to Tulsa to see Rabbi Zimmerman, as Brady wanted her to know that Rothbaum’s murder was not a hate crime. Bill tries to sell Brady’s marijuana growing system to the Broken Bow Market, but Bill is shot through the chest by a crossbow, and Bolger kills the thug and takes Bill to the hospital. Janet visits him. Bolger is told that he saved Bill’s life, repaying his debt to Brady (who had saved his life in prison). A few weeks later, Bill is sitting outside of Brady and Colleen’s house while Daisy takes care of the baby. Janet and Bill hold hands over a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass as it starts to rain.

REVIEW:

Once in a while, Netflix will suggest a film that is so intriguing that you just have to watch. With Leaves of Grass, I was hoping that would be the case, but it wasn’t. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. A little background about this flick would be nice to start, right?

What is this about?

Edward Norton stars in this quirky tale centered on a respected Ivy League professor who’s lured back to Oklahoma to help his equally brilliant twin brother — who grows the world’s finest hydroponic marijuana — best a big-time pot pusher.

What did I like?

Duality. Edward Norton is a fine actor. Many of us don’t realize that or push it aside because of his ego and rumors about him being hard to work with on set. Watching this film, though, it can’t be said that the guy can’t transform himself and play two different roles in the same picture, because he is portraying the straight-laced professor of philosophy (if I’m not mistaken), and his twin drug dealing brother, who turns out is actually the smarter of the two. Other than the fact that they look alike, one would never think they are related, let alone played by the same actor.

Moments. While this is necessarily a laugh out loud picture, there are some funny moments, mostly taking place in the film’s first half. The best, for me, was the student attempting to seduce Norton’s professor character in his office. It is the awkward moments that make this film enjoyable and not a complete bore, especially if you’re labeling yourself as a comedy.

Reunion. What do Edward Norton, Tim Blake Nelson, and Ty Burrell have in common? Well, they all starred in The Incredible Hulk. You remember that one, right? It technically is a part of Marvel Phase I, but Norton talked himself out of a sequel and The Avengers by wanting a bigger part, producer credits, etc. At any rate, it is nice to see these guys back together, but I wonder if Keri Russell’s role was meant with Liv Tyler in mind.

What didn’t I like?

Anti-Jew. I really would like to know what it is that the filmmaker has against Jews, because there is a definite anti-Jew feeling here, and I’m not just talking about the scene where they invade a synagogue, kill a rabbi, then spray paint backwards swastikas and hate speech on the walls, but just various pieces of dialogue and jokes that don’t work that well.

Double trouble. Have you ever seen shows from like the 60s or so where a character would also play their “evil” twin/sibling? Those of you that can’t seem to get over the fact that technology wasn’t the same back in those days and call everything “cheesy” will notice that mirror like effect that goes on in said episodes. At various points of this film, it seems as if they use the same technique. Obviously, they do all they can to not use both of Norton’s characters in the same scene, but when they do, the look of it, just doesn’t look that great.

Cute co-ed. The cute co-ed at the beginning of the film, played by Lucy DeVito (daughter of Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman), would have been great to have as a bigger part, especially since students aren’t allowed to have flings with their professors. Does this come up, even though they get caught? Yes and no. No, in that it seems to be forgotten until just before the final act, where she overacts a bit. Why set up the hilarious situation at the beginning, only to nearly leave it dangling in the wind for the rest of the film? Your guess is as good as mine, but I wish she’s come back to Melissa & Joey.

Shift. The last 10-15 minutes of this film, which serve as some odd, epilogue, could very well have been cut. First off, there is the shooting, which makes no real sense, especially when you see who does the shooting and their reasoning behind their actions. Then there is the sequence of events that follows. For a film that, for the most part, has had that tone of comedy, all the life is sucked out of this flick and it just becomes a dark drama. As I said, this could have all been cut and it wouldn’t have hurt the film. Hell, it may have actually made it better!

As it stands, the only pot film that won’t make you lose more brain cells that if you were actually smoking the stuff is Dazed & Confused. Leaves of Grass is a bit more cerebral that the usual stoner flick, but that doesn’t mean it is worth watching. There are a couple of moments here and there than make this film worth watching and the cast is pretty good, but over all I don’t recommend this flick. If you’ve never heard of it, there is a reason for that, and it is best you forget you even know it exists.

2 out of 5 stars

The People vs. Larry Flynt

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2012 by Mystery Man

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

The film opens with a 10-year-old Larry Flynt (Cody Block) in 1953, as selling moonshine in an Appalachian region of Kentucky. The narrative then advances 20 years. Flynt (Woody Harrelson) and his younger brother, Jimmy (played by Brett Harrelson, Woody’s younger brother) run a Hustler Go-Go club in Cincinnati. With profits down, Flynt decides to publish a “newsletter” for the club – the first Hustler magazine, full of nude pictures of women working at the club, in the hopes of attracting customers. The newsletter soon becomes a full-fledged magazine, but sales are weak. It’s only after Hustler publishes nude pictures of former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis that sales take off, partially due to all the publicity surrounding the photos.

Flynt, a habitual womanizer, becomes particularly smitten with Althea Leasure (Courtney Love), a runaway-turned-stripper who works at one of his dance clubs. With help from Althea and Jimmy, Flynt makes a fortune from sales of Hustler, and other business activities. With all his success, naturally, comes enemies – as he finds himself a hated figure of conservative, anti-pornography activists. He argues with the activists, one of a number of themes the film explores: in one scene, he argues that “murder is illegal, but if you take a picture of it you may get your name in a magazine or maybe win a Pulitzer Prize”. “However”, he continues, “sex is legal, but if you take a picture of that act, you can go to jail”. Flynt becomes involved in several prominent court cases, and befriends a young, whip-smart lawyer, Alan Isaacman (Edward Norton). In 1975, Flynt loses a smut-peddling court decision in Cincinnati, but escapes jail time when the case is thrown out on a technicality, thereby beginning his long clash with the legal system. (The real Larry Flynt plays the presiding judge in a cameo appearance.) Ruth Carter Stapleton (Donna Hanover), a Christian activist and sister of President Jimmy Carter, seeks out Flynt and urges him to give his life to Jesus. Flynt seems moved and starts letting his newfound religion influence everything in his life, including Hustler content, much to the chagrin of staffers and Althea alike.

In 1978, during another trial in Georgia, Flynt and Isaacman are both shot by a man with a rifle while they walk outside a courthouse. Isaacman recovers, but Flynt is paralyzed from the waist down and uses a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Wishing he was dead, Flynt renounces God. Because of the emotional and physical pain, he moves to Beverly Hills and spirals down into severe depression and drug use. During this time, Althea begins to dabble in Flynt’s pain medications, eventually becoming hooked on painkillers and morphine.

In 1983, Flynt undergoes surgery to deaden several nerves, and as a result of it, feels rejuvenated. He returns to an active role with the publication. In his absence, Althea and Jimmy run Hustler, removing any Christian influence in its content. Flynt is soon in court again, and is told to provide his source regarding a video tape of a drug deal. During his ever-increasing courtroom antics, Flynt fires Isaacman on the spot, then throws an orange at the judge, all the while refusing to name his source. Flynt is sent to a psychiatric ward, where he sinks into depression again. Before going to the psychiatric ward, Flynt publishes a satirical parody ad where famous evangelical minister Jerry Falwell (Richard Paul) “speaks about his first time”, and tells of a sexual encounter with his mother. Falwell sues for libel and inflicting emotional distress. Flynt countersues for copyright infringement (because Falwell copied his ad). Everything ends up in court in December 1984, attracting the attention of the media. The jury’s decision is a mixed one, as Flynt is found guilty of inflicting emotional distress but not libel.

By that time, Althea has contracted HIV, which proceeds to AIDS. Some time later in 1987, Flynt finds her dead in the bathtub, having drowned (possibly as the result of an overdose, though this is unclear in the film). With his true love gone, Flynt presses Isaacman to appeal the Falwell decision to the Supreme Court of the United States. Isaacman refuses, saying Flynt’s manic courtroom antics humiliate him. Flynt pleads with him, saying that he “wants to be remembered for something meaningful”. Isaacman agrees and argues the “emotional distress” decision in front of the Supreme Court, in a case the media nickname “God versus the Devil” (actually Hustler Magazine v. Falwell in 1988). While Flynt is uncharacteristically quiet in the courtroom, Isaacman argues the case and wins, with the court overturning the original verdict in a unanimous decision. The film culminates with Flynt’s victory; after the trial is over, Flynt is shown alone in his bedroom wistfully watching old videotapes of a healthy Althea.

REVIEW:

I’m sure that those of you that read this are not exactly big fans of Hustler magazine. On the other hand, you might be. Who knows? If you are, then you know that the publication is near the top of the pornographic market. Is that reason enough to give the founder a biopic? Well, if it was, don’t you think Hugh Hefner would have had one by now?

The fact of the matter is, Larry Flynt is more of a colorful character. Oh, and then there is that little spat he had with the Rev. Jerry Falwell that went all the way up to the Supreme Court.

The People vs Larry Flynt takes us on a journey through Flynt’s tumultuous life (he’s still alive, btw). The film starts with his humble beginning creating moonshine with his brother to the start of his club, to the start of and evolution of the magazine, and all points in between. All this plus the trials of his wife and the legal battles he has to endure.

Admittedly, there are parts of the film that Flynt, with his over-the-top personality, can be a bit much to swallow, but one has to just chalk it up the film exaggerating, though I’m not sure if they were or not.

The story moves along at a brisk enough pace that the audience doesn’t have to time to get bored, but it also takes its time in places so that no one gets lost. Too often film either fly through or drag which make it extremely hard to keep up.

Woody Harrelson does a good job as Flynt, but I think he’s too skinny. Maybe I’m ruined by this day and age when actors seem to gain or lose weight for roles, but if you’ve ever seen Larry Flynt (he actually plays a judge in the film), you will know that he is quite the large man, and not a skinny guy with a beer gut that way Harrelson plays him. Other than that, I had no real issue with his portrayal.

Courtney Love has never been better than she is here. When I saw this film the first time, it was about the time Love’s life was spiraling out of control. Now, years later, it is amazing to see how her life has almost completely mirrored this character. Hopefully she doesn’t overdose and drown in a tub, though. That point aside, her performance cannot be ignored. It is no wonder she earned so many rave reviews, accolades, and awards.

A young Edward Norton appears in one of his first big screen roles, but he masters this role as much as a more seasoned veteran would.

This is one of those pictures that falls into the category of you’ll either love it or hate it. I’m more on the side of loving it, but not 100%. It has good moments, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and of course has some gratuitous breasts (it about a guy who runs a porn mag…what do you expect?) As I was sitting watching this tonight, I found myself wanting to see it again, and I’m sure you will to, so give it a shot, why don’t you?

4 out of 5 stars

The Italian Job

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Thrillers/Mystery with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 30, 2010 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

In Venice, Italy, retired safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland) calls his daughter Stella Bridger (Charlize Theron) and tells her that he is participating in what will be his final heist. John then meets up with Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg) before setting the heist into motion. Their team consists of themselves and four others: Steve (Edward Norton) is the “inside man”, Handsome Rob (Jason Statham) is a getaway driver, Left Ear (Mos Def) is an explosives expert, and Lyle (Seth Green) is a technical expert. The heist is a success, but Steve betrays them all by taking the gold for himself; he kills John Bridger and leaves the rest of the team for dead.

A year later in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Stella is using her safe cracking expertise to break into vaults as an assistant to law enforcement personnel. The team has tracked Steve down, and Charlie recruits Stella to participate with the team in stealing the gold from Steve since she has the required skill and motivation. The team travels to Los Angeles, California to begin their surveillance of Steve’s house and plan the heist. Meanwhile, Steve attempts to sell his gold through a money launderer, but kills him when the launderer begins asking questions about the source of the gold. However, the money launderer is a cousin of a local Ukrainian Mafia boss, who subsequently seeks vengeance for his cousin’s murder. The team’s initial plan is to have Steve stood up on a date with Stella—who posed as a cable repair woman to get into Steve’s house and locate his safe—while the team would break into Steve’s house, load the gold into three Mini Coopers modified by Rob’s mechanical friend Wrench (Franky G), and use hacked traffic lights to make their escape. However, Charlie is forced to call it off because of a local party, which would witness the heist’s execution. To maintain her cover, Stella goes on the date with Steve, but he figures out her real identity. Charlie then confronts Steve and promises that he will recover the stolen gold.

Now aware that Charlie and his team are alive, Steve makes preparations to move the gold. He obtains three armored trucks and a helicopter from which to monitor the trucks’ transit. To counter the shell game, Charlie uses Lyle’s control over the Los Angeles traffic system to isolate the one truck containing the gold, which Lyle manages to find, and gridlocks the entire city. The team then steals the gold from the truck and escape in their trio of Mini Coopers. Steve and his hired security guards pursue them through Los Angeles, and the team manages to lose them all, except Steve. He follows Charlie, but falls into a trap: Charlie has already informed the Ukrainian that Steve is the man they want, and Charlie gives the Ukrainian a portion of the stolen gold. Steve is taken away by the gangsters, and the team split up the remaining gold and raise a toast to Stella’s father as they leave Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight. During the credits, it is shown what happens to each of the main characters afterward.

REVIEW:

If you’ve seen these little striped cars driving around, y’know, the mini-Coopers, this is the film that brought them fame and popularity. Personally, they are a bit small for me, but to each their own. However, they do play a pivotal role on this picture. I thought, initially, that they would be just a way of transportation, but turns out that they take up more screen time than some of the actors.

Again, I have to say that I detest remakes, but I have not seen the original, so I have nothing to compare this to, so, my opinion is strictly based on what I saw, and nothing else.

The good…look at the cast, Jason Statham, Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron, Edward Norton, Seth Green, Mos DEf, and Donald Sutherland. At the time this film was made, Statham was up and coming, Wahlberg, Norton and Theron were settling in to mega stardom, and Green and Mos Def were realizing that they are best served ding comic roles. Having said that, this cast is phenomenal. The chemistry that exists really sells the story. The last 30 minutes or so, are nothing but pure action, which I love. Of course, I could have done with a few more explosions, but I won’t hold that against them. While the plot of the crime is a bit convoluted, it is impressive, especially when they pull it off…before the deception, of course. What’s even more impressive is how they use the same process to get the gold back from Edward Norton.

The bad…for an action flick, there is a severe lack of action here. As I said, the last 30 minutes or so cram it all in, and that’s fine, but what about the other 90? Save for the heist at the beginning and later escape and betrayal, there’s nothing but a bunch of drama that takes up the rest of the film’s runtime. I’m not quite sure what the deal with the Ukrainians was, even if they do play a pivotal role at the end. I guess if they got a proper introduction and some development, they would make more sense, and not just 3 scenes, total. Maybe it’s just me, but if I had a few tons of gold all marked with a distinctive design of a dancer on them, I’d be finding a way to get rid of that mark, so that they can’t be traced. Norton’s character seems like a real smart guy, so I don’t understand how he missed that.

With all the fancy gadgets and ways they these guys pull off the hesits and adjust their mini Coopers, one has to wonder how long it will be before some real crooks are able to pull this off. I guess if some major city grid is shit down and a massive shipment of gold is stolen, we’ll know, right? I really don’t know why I’ve avoided this film. I guess because I thought it was more drama heavy, as most films involving Wahlberg and Theron tend to be. For the most part, I was right, but I was also wrong. I did enjoy this picture, but I’m not in love with it. The entertainment value is there, but not enough to where I’m going to drop everything I’m doing and watch this again. Having said that, if given the chance, I’d love to see it now and then, but for me, it was just above average.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

The Incredible Hulk

Posted in Action/Adventure, Movie Reviews, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Superhero Films with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2009 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

A montage during the opening credit sequence details the film’s backstory and the origin of the Hulk. General Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt) meets with Dr. Bruce Banner (Edward Norton), the colleague and lover of his daughter Betty (Liv Tyler). He wants him to revive a World War II-era military bio-force project, but tells Banner the goal of the experiment is to make human beings immune to gamma radiation. The experiment fails, transforming Banner into the monstrous Hulk (voiced by Lou Ferrigno), and injuring Betty. Now a fugitive from the United States Army, Banner has been on the run for five years.

As the film opens, Banner works at a soda bottling factory in Rocinha while searching for a cure for his condition (through analyzing the properties of certain rare, Amazonian plants and herbs) with the help of a colleague on the Internet, known only as “Mr. Blue”. He is also learning meditative breathing techniques from a martial arts expert (Rickson Gracie) to help regulate his pulse rate and keep his anger under control, and has not transformed in 158 days. After Banner cuts his finger, a drop of his blood ends up in one of the bottles, and is eventually ingested by an ill-fated consumer (Stan Lee) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This accident points Ross to Banner’s location and he sends a team, led by Russian-born British special ops expert Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), to capture him. Banner escapes Blonsky by transforming into the Hulk and fighting off his team inside the bottle factory. After Ross explains how Banner first became the Hulk, a vengeful Blonsky agrees to be injected with a new super soldier serum, which gives him enhanced speed, agility, reflexes, endurance and healing.

Meanwhile, Banner returns to Culver University (where the Hulk was born) in Virginia and reunites with Betty, who is dating psychiatrist Leonard Samson (Ty Burrell). On the day he decides to leave, Ross and Blonsky’s forces attack Banner at Culver University to draw out the Hulk, having been tipped off by the suspicious Samson. The Hulk wins the battle and flees with Betty. After he calms down, Banner and Betty go on the run. After several stops, Banner again makes contact with “Mr. Blue”, who urges them to travel to New York City to meet him. He turns out to be cellular biologist Dr. Samuel Sterns (Tim Blake Nelson), a college professor. They learn that Sterns has developed a possible antidote that may cure Banner’s condition, or merely reverse each individual transformation. After a successful test, Sterns reveals that he has synthesized Banner’s blood sample (which he sent from Brazil) into a large supply with the intention of using it to enhance the human condition to the next evolutionary level. Appalled by what Sterns had done and fearful of the Hulk’s power falling into the wrong hands, Banner attempts to convince Sterns to destroy the blood supply, but he is attacked by Ross’ forces and taken into custody with Betty.

While Sterns is interrogated with a female soldier about his work, Blonsky strikes her down and demands Sterns to inject him with Banner’s blood sample. Sterns warns that the combination of the supersoldier formula (which Blonsky has overdosed on, mutating his skeleton) and a gamma treatment would be an unpredictable combination that could turn him into an “abomination” (voiced by Tim Roth). Unconcerned, Blonsky forces Sterns to administer the gamma charge, and he mutates into a powerful monster. He knocks Sterns aside and escapes, rampaging through Harlem to draw the Hulk out. At the lab, an irradiated sample of Banner’s blood-derivative drips into an open wound on Sterns’ temple, causing his cranium to mutate and expand.

Banner, realizing that he is the only one who can stop the monster, convinces General Ross to release him. He falls from Ross’ helicopter as it hovers over the city, hoping the fall will trigger a transformation. Banner’s plan succeeds, and after a brutal battle, the Hulk defeats Blonsky by nearly strangling him to death with a huge chain, relenting his grip only after Betty’s plea. The Hulk then flees. Thirty-one days later, Banner is in Bella Coola, British Columbia. Instead of trying to suppress his transformations, he is attempting to initiate them in a controlled manner. As his eyes turn green, a grin appears on his face. Meanwhile, General Ross is drinking in a bar when he is approached by Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) who reveals that a “team” is being put together.

REVIEW:

Hulk was an alright film, but The Incredible Hulk was leaps and bounds above it. That’s not to say that it isn’t without its flaws, though, and there are parts of Hulk that I liked, but this one was just more enjoyable and not so cerebral.

Edward Norton takes over the role as Bruce Banner/Hulk and for the most part does a decent job. I really like how he actually brought some life to Bruce Banner, something that Eric Bana didn’t do, but that may be because he had better material to work with.

Liv Tyler is beautiful as always, although she doesn’t get much to work with here other than just being eye candy, but that’s typical Betty.

William Hurt is a downgrade from Sam Elliott as General Ross. I’m sorry for all of you out there that are deluded in thinking he did better. Sam Elliot just worked better. Hurt seemed out of place.

Tim Roth was surprisingly good as Emil Blonsky. I was impressed.

I really like how this film made some simple homages to the TV series, such as playing the walking music near the beginning and having Lou Ferrigno voice the Hulk.

The scene where Banner and Betty are getting all hot and heavy and then have to stop because he can’t get too excited was just awkward. I’m not sure if it was because of the situation or because we all wanted to see more of Liv Tyler, or because it didn’t seem to fit.

Hulk looked pretty good, but for me, I prefer the previous version. I realize they were going for a more “realistic” look and all, but not everything has to be so damn real. Also, that Hulk grew as he got madder, this one stayed the same size throughout the whole film. Also, watching him walk was a bit funny. It looked like he clonking around with shovels on his feet or something.

There are two characters that were alluded to and we may see if a sequel is ever greenlit. Doc Sampson and the Leader, not to mention the groundwork for the forthcoming Avengers  film.

A beef I have with this film is the final fight scene. It seemed like a mix between the final fight in Iron Man and Transformers. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just wish they would have thought of something more original.

Yes, in case you can’t tell, I really liked this film. It’s not perfect by any means, but it was very enjoyable, unlike its predecessor which almost bored me to tears. There’s plenty of action, no unnecessary scientific mumbo jumbo (although with Hulk, it is expected), and the pace moves along quite nicely. You’ll really enjoy this film, and all but forget about that other version.

4 out of 5 stars

Fight Club

Posted in Drama, Movie Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2008 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

The narrator (Edward Norton) is an automobile company employee who travels to accident sites to perform product recall cost appraisals. His doctor refuses to write a prescription for his insomnia and instead suggests that he visit a support group for testicular cancer victims in order to appreciate real suffering. By attending the group, the narrator feels distraught at the condition of these ill fated people and breaks down. He is then able to sleep soundly and subsequently fakes more illnesses so he can attend other support groups in order to get out his pent up emotions through crying. The narrator’s routine is disrupted when he begins to notice another impostor, Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter), at the same meetings and his insomnia returns.

During a flight for a business trip, the narrator meets Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt), who makes and sells soap. The narrator arrives home to find his apartment has been destroyed by an explosion. He calls Tyler and meets him at a bar. Tyler agrees to let the narrator stay at his home on the condition that the narrator hits him. The narrator complies and the two end up enjoying a fist fight outside the bar. The narrator moves into Tyler’s dilapidated house and the two return to the bar, where they have another fight in the parking lot. After attracting a crowd, they establish a ‘fight club’ in the bar’s basement.

When Marla overdoses on Xanax, she is rescued by Tyler and the two embark upon a sexual relationship. Tyler tells the narrator never to talk about him with Marla. Under Tyler’s leadership, the fight club becomes “Project Mayhem,” which commits increasingly destructive acts of anti-capitalist vandalism in the city. The fight clubs become a network for Project Mayhem, and the narrator is left out of Tyler’s activities with the project. After an argument, Tyler disappears from the narrator’s life and when a member of Project Mayhem dies on a mission, the narrator attempts to shut down the project. Tracing Tyler’s steps, he travels around the country to find that fight clubs have been started in every major city, where one of the participants identifies him as Tyler Durden. A phone call to Marla confirms his identity and he realizes that Tyler is an alter ego of his own split personality. Tyler appears before him and explains that he controls the narrator’s body whenever he is asleep.

The narrator faints and awakes to find Tyler has made several phone calls during his blackout and traces his plans to the downtown headquarters of several major credit card companies, which Tyler intends to destroy in order to cripple the financial networks. Failing to find help with the police, many of whom are members of Project Mayhem, the narrator attempts to disarm the explosives in the basement of one of the buildings. He is confronted by Tyler, knocked unconscious, and taken to the upper floor of another building to witness the impending destruction. The narrator, held by Tyler at gunpoint, realizes that in sharing the same body with Tyler, he is the one who is actually holding the gun. He fires it into his mouth, shooting through the cheek without killing himself. The illusion of Tyler collapses with an exit wound to the back of his head. Shortly after, members of Project Mayhem bring a kidnapped Marla to the narrator and leave them alone. The bombs detonate and, holding hands, the two witness the destruction of the entire financial city block through the windows.

REVIEW:

By even reviewing this, I’m breaking the first rule of Fight Club, which is, “You do not talk about Fight Club.” However, I have to say, this is a pretty good movie. I can see why it’s developed such a cult following.

Brad Pitt and Edward Norton are two very talented actors and they’re roles in this film really show some of their acting chops. One thing about Norton, though, every movie I’ve seen him in, with the exception of American History X, he’s had a split personality or some variation of it. This is no exception.

This is more a movie for the guys, no doubt about it, but ladies no doubt will enjoy the scenes with bare chested, sweaty men.

Helena Bonham Carter, while doing a good job, is wasted in this role, both in terms of talent and beauty. Jared Leto’s role could have been bigger, but now that I think about it, this was one of his earlier roles.

I did not know this was based on a book. Now that I’ve seen it a couple of times, I may go read it, then watch it again.

This movie has light moments, fighting scenes, and an unexpected ending. If those types of things appeal to you, then I recommend this to you very highly.

4 out of 5 stars

Death to Smoochy

Posted in Comedy, Movie Reviews, Spoofs & Satire with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2008 by Mystery Man

PLOT:

Rainbow Randolph (Williams) enjoys his life and career as a happily corrupt children’s television show host, until he is caught by a federal sting for accepting bribes from parents who want their children on the show. He is soon replaced by the “squeaky clean”, free from taint of any kind, but emotionally weak and disturbed, Sheldon Mopes, and his character, Smoochy the Rhino (Norton) (a parody of Barney the Dinosaur). Randolph finds himself unemployed and homeless, virtually outcast from television by his two-faced associate Marion Stokes (Stewart), a slimy TV executive. In an effort to return to his life in the spotlight, Randolph develops several schemes to bring down Sheldon Mopes in hopes to reclaim his timeslot.

When not fighting for creative control, Sheldon tries to maintain a stable relationship with fellow employee Nora (Keener), who later becomes Sheldon’s love interest. Upon hearing about this relationship, Randolph decides to make it known about the wild times that he and Nora once had, going as far as to comment on how “limber” Nora was. Something of a warped love triangle develops, as Nora completely denies having any feelings for Rainbow anymore.

Beneath all of what is happening around him, Mopes engages in shady connections with the Irish mob, as well as a charity run by Merv Green (Harvey Fierstein) that is more imposing than beneficial. The mob, headed by the sympathetic Tommy Cotter (Pam Ferris) confronts Sheldon in his new office, demanding that her cousin, the former pro boxer Spinner, be given a spot on the Smoochy show. Mopes, fearing for his life, accepts the “offer” and puts Spinner on the show. Spinner, after many years of taking blows to the head, is mentally handicapped and speaks like a very loud five-year-old. After a stint in the show playing the cowbell (and giving Tommy a headache), Spinner is placed in the role of Smoochy’s cousin, Moochy the Rhino. Meanwhile, a despondent Randolph is taken in by Angelo (Danny Woodburn), an old co-star during Randolph’s reign as host who now works on Mopes’ show.

The corrupt “Parade of Hope” Foundation comes into play as Burke Bennett (DeVito) purposely bumps into Sheldon – who is drinking orange juice – at a bar. Bennett comes forward with an offer to Sheldon for full executive control of the Smoochy show. Not knowing who Burke is associated with, the naive Mopes accepts. Burke does indeed get Sheldon full creative control, but later that week signs Smoochy up for a touring ice skating show. Sheldon strongly opposes the idea, seeing it as only a way for the company to make more money. Bennett urges Mopes to reconsider, but to no avail. Sheldon is then confronted by charity boss Merv Green (Fierstein), who twists Sheldon’s arm into doing the ice show. However, Merv’s life is abruptly ended when he orders a hit on Sheldon that results in Spinner getting killed after his Moochy costume is mistaken for the Smoochy costume. Tommy and her crew behead Merv in a story retold to Sheldon, who is aghast.

The ice show goes on, without vendors or corporate interference, with all profits going to charity. What Mopes does not know is that Burke and Stokes have hired (heroin) drug addict Buggy Ding Dong (Vincent Schiavelli), another former children’s show host, to murder Mopes (with a silenced sniper rifle) during his ice show. Rainbow Randolph, who ultimately realizes that Sheldon Mopes is a good and honest man, finds out about the assassination attempt to kill Smoochy during the show. Rainbow (noticing Burke watching a Laser light coming from somewhere in the rafters) then stops the murder, by tackling Mopes as he fires (with the bullet hitting the Smoochy costume horn, but it is revealed that the costume currently being used, has a very hard protective shell, leaving Mopes unharmed), just in time. Both of them struggling for control over the rifle ends in Randolph dangling from a catwalk, as Buggy clings to his boot, until it slips off his foot and (observed by Sheldon, Nora & numerous onlooking staff/spectators) Buggy falls from the rafters onto the ice (protesting on the way down that he never saw Venice). After Sheldon realizes that Burke and Stokes set him up, he chases after Burke into an alleyway. Sheldon, enraged for the first time seen, goes “nuts”, pulls a gun and threatens to kill Burke (not before uttering his first and only profanities on the film). Tommy and her men arrive just in time to prevent Sheldon from losing face and take over in ‘taking care’ of Burke. Stokes is also in their captivity and Tommy indicates that they’ll eliminate Burke and Stokes, getting Sheldon to leave so he doesn’t have to witness it. After a violent outburst, Sheldon finally sees eye to eye with Randolph. The two decide to join forces (with Nora as well) and continue the ice tour together as Rainbow Randolph and Smoochy the Rhino.

REVIEW:

This film reminds me of everything I hate about Barney the Dinosaur and his ilk. Edward Norton pulls a pge out of his Primal Fear character and is just annoyingly sweet, until the end when he nearly goes psycho.

Robin Williams is pretty much the opposite of what he has been for most of his career in this film, and he pulls it off very nicely.

As funny as Jon Stewart is, you’d think he’d have been given a bigger role, but I guess they decided not to do that in their infinite wisdom.

This is just an ok movie. Not something to go run out and watch before you die. Basically, if you’re into films that want to be dark comedies, but don’t quite cut it, then this is for you, otherwise, don’t waste your time.

2 1/2 out 5 stars