Tag Archives: Michael Peña

[Review] – End Of Watch

6 Oct

Title: End of Watch
Year: 2012
Director: David Ayer
Writer: David Ayer
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick, Natalie Martinez, America Ferrera, Frank Grillo, Cody Horn
MPAA Rating: R, strong violence, some disturbing images, pervasive language including sexual references, and some drug use
Runtime: 109 min
IMDb Rating: 8.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 70

If I’m going to be totally honest I didn’t even know about End of Watch until some months ago when the trailer was released and when I posted the trailer here I said “not really expecting this one to be any good, but we’ll have to see”. And I really didn’t, this was a film that used the POV style of filmmaking on a story about cops, written and directed by David Ayer who, sure, had written Training Day, but who’s directing output had consisted of Harsh Times and Street Kings which were both super formulaic cop movies. So yeah, I thought this was a guy who knew his turf with this genre and would provide a predictable, at best slightly better-than-average movie.

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[Trailer] – The Gangster Squad

9 May

Ruben Fleischer followed up his incredible debut Zombieland with last year’s 30 Minutes or Less which was something of a letdown (I gave it a B-). But now he seems to be back in the game with his first foray into a serious drama, The Gangster Squad, a trailer for which you can watch after the cut.

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[Trailer] – End Of Watch

3 May

David Ayer is bringing the found-footage style of cinematography and storytelling to the cop genre, with the HD digital camera style and the POV-intimate shots being all over the trailer for his upcoming film End of Watch, a trailer for which you can watch after the cut.

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Tower Heist

13 Dec

Title: Tower Heist
Year: 2011
Director: Brett Ratner
Writers: Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson, with a story by Adam Cooper, Bill Collage and Mr. Griffin
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe, Judd Hirsch, Zeljko Ivanek, Jessica Szohr
MPAA Rating: PG-13, language and sexual content
Runtime: 104 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%

I watched Tower Heist about a month after the whole Brett Ratner kerfuffle. Not on purpose but rather because I had some catching up on previous movies to do, but still, I’m glad that happened. I’ve never thought much about Mr. Ratner or his movies (though Red Dragon, for which he was a very unlikely choice for director, was pretty damn decent) and the way he handled himself when making the rounds for this movie was just seriously atrocious, a move which of course got him ousted as producer from the upcoming Oscars telecast, and with him also went his collaborator in this film, Eddie Murphy, who had been tapped to host the ceremony.

Now that that’s all been resolved, and the Academy made the much smarter move of getting Brian Grazer to produce and Billy Crystal to host, the feelings for Mr. Ratner have settled down again, and I can watch Tower Heist and judge it for what it is. And, surprisingly enough, it actually turned out to be a film I can actually recommend to people. Don’t get me wrong, this is still undeniably a Brett Ratner movie, as in that it has absolutely no brains or anything of substance, but it’s also a good Brett Ratner movie in that it’s just seriously entertaining thanks to an ensemble that helped make the fluff of the film really fun to watch. And, perhaps more importantly, I thought this was a nice comeback vehicle for Mr. Murphy; he’ll probably never be what he once was, but this is a step in the right direction.

Seriously, Tower Heist is actually worth your time, it’s reminiscent of those big caper movies of the good ol’ days and it’s certainly well-made, and yeah, there’s nothing of substance to hold on to and the minute you leave the theater you’ll forget all about the film, but the fact that it has such a capable cast means that even the lousiest jokes in the films (of which there are a few) don’t sound as horrible as they normally would. Plus, like I said, Eddie Murphy shows more than a few glimpses of his old comedy mode (as in, not the ones that depended on a fat suit), and when that happens it’s actually pretty awesome just to watch him perform, he has that magnetism one couldn’t be blamed for having forgotten because of his recent choices in films, but once you see him stealing any scene from any of his co-stars, you’ll be glad he’s back to doing what he does best.

Not to mention that of course this film has that feeling of being quite timely what with all the Occupy Wall Street happenings of late, as the film centers around a group of employees of an apartment building full of insanely wealthy people and their plan to exact a heist to rob the Bernie Madoff-like billionaire played by Alan Alda, an arrogant guy who’s more than fine with leaving them without a pension fund. That timeliness actually makes this one better, you can relate to their causes, the people who were there in Wall Street will certainly like the idea presented by this film (even though it’s made by the people they’re protesting against).

The group of building employees is led by the manager, played by Mr. Stiller, who starts recruiting people for his heist, including a bankrupt resident played by Matthew Broderick, the bellhop played by Michael Peña and, of course, a thief played by Mr. Murphy, who’ll obviously be the volatile member of the team who may be acting with his own individual purposes at heart. So you just know this will be a fun movie, because no matter what you say it’s always fun to watch a slimey billionaire (especially one played so well by Alan Alda) get his due, and Mr. Stiller is always dependable in this kind of role, and Mr. Murphy is back to doing what he does best. Don’t get me wrong, there are all kinds of things that are off in this movie, loose ends abound and in the end it’s all pretty forgettable, but it’s a fun way to spend a couple of hours in the theater.

I liked Tower Heist, I probably didn’t want to like it, actually, but I left the theater with a good feeling about it. There are good things here; the cinematography by Dante Spinotti (who did L.A. Confidential and The Insider) is pretty damn neat; the visual effects from Mark Russell are really effective; Kristi Zea (who did The Departed and Revolutionary Road) did the production design. So yeah, there are a lot of good parts to Tower Heist that, while they don’t make it a stellar film, do add to make a really entertaining caper flick.

I still don’t particularly like Brett Ratner, his comments make him look pretty stupid to me most of the time, but a) I don’t actually know the guy and, b) I won’t let that bias my judgment for this film. This is a film that makes us laugh about the economic crisis because we need some comic relief, that has Alan Alda being that kind of sarcastic he’s so good at that, that has Ben Stiller instill that everyman type of soul to his character and, most importantly, that has Eddie Murphy be the funniest he’s been since Bowfinger, and maybe back on the right track to relaunching his career. What it doesn’t have is enough Téa Leoni, she’s always incredible but most films don’t give her enough screen time or know how to best use her, and this one isn’t the exception. But hey, this isn’t a perfect film, but it’s really fun, and that’s more than what I thought it would be.

Grade: B

30 Minutes or Less

6 Sep

Title: 30 Minutes or Less
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Michael Diliberti, based on a story by himself and Matthew Sullivan
Starring: 
Jesse Eisenberg, Danny McBride, Aziz Ansari, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña, Fred Ward
MPAA Rating: 
R, crude and sexual content, pervasive language, nudity and some violence
Runtime: 
83 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.7
Rotten Tomatoes: 
42%

 

The level of expectation I had for 30 Minutes or Less was seriously amped up. Ruben Fleischer had made his feature-length debut with Zombieland two years ago, and I ranked that film as my 11th favorite of that particular year, it’s pretty much a masterful film that got splendid performances from Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone, a favorite of mine. Now, Mr. Fleischer, instead of going off and doing a huge-budget studio film (he was offered the upcoming Mission: Impossible film) chose to remain in the comedy genre he loved so much (he’s done great stuff for Funny or Die) and garner some more experience before setting off to do a big film, which I thought was a smart move. Not to mention that he had retained his Zombieland lead, Mr. Eisenberg, and paired him up with the likes of Aziz Ansari and Danny McBride, arguable two of the funniest guys on television right now from their roles in Parks and Recreation and Eastbound & Down, respectively, so it all seemed to point at 30 Minutes or Less being a great success.

I was wrong, though, unfortunate as that may be. I mean, the film isn’t horrible at all, and the cast is indeed quite good, but Mr. Fleischer’s direction didn’t seem as involved as it was in Zombieland to me, and the result was a film with a rather messy narrative, not to mention that some of its crude R-rated gags sometimes felt like a bit too gratuitous for me and not really as smart as they evidently thought they would be at all. I just didn’t know what the film was trying to accomplish, I got the sense at times that it was trying to emulate films like Pineapple Express, one that I personally loved, and have that whole stoner/slacker comedy vibe, but in the end the script didn’t do enough to make it a decent stab at that genre, it helped that the cast was as talented as it was because it masked some of the obvious holes in the screenplay, but it wasn’t enough for this to be as great as I thought it was going to be.

You may recall the true event that inspired this film. In 2003 a pizza delivery guy concocted a scheme to rob a bank with a fake bomb strapped to his chest, except his partners double-crossed him and the thing was real. It’s really kind of crazy that a comedy of this kind was inspired by such a horrid real event, but here you have Mr. Eisenberg’s character, Nick, a loser twentysomething year-old who just delivers pizzas probably because anything else would require too much effort from him. His pizza company, as the title indicates, promises your pizza will arrive in 30 minutes or less, it also indicates that the guy’s a pretty solid driver, which ensures the pizza’s rapid arrival as well as some handy abilities when the inevitable car chase scene comes along. He’s the guy who’s kidnapped by a mischievous duo who strap a bomb to his chest and order him to rob a bank for them or else he’s dead.

Nick’s best friend and roommate is Chet, played by the awesome Mr. Ansari, who’s actually taken a step towards maturity and taken a job as a high school teacher, which means his relationship with Nick goes through a speed bump as he can’t indulge in many irresponsibilities any more, not to mention Nick slept with his twin sister, Kate. However, what better way to get friends together again than a bomb strapped to one of their chests? Because Nick obviously goes to Chet, who obviously rises to the occasion and does what he can to help save his friends life. And look, it may sound cool but the way it’s done is just too unimaginative, with only mild laughs available, and not that often to begin with, this is a film that you’ll forget soon after watching it, which is a pity considering it came from the same guy that masterfully executed such a high-concept and thoroughly entertaining film like Zombieland.

This a dumb film though, which is okay in so far as that the characters aren’t the brightest bulbs ever, either. I mean, the film’s two baddies, Dwayne played by Mr. McBride and Travis played Nick Swardson, are at a strip club one night when Dwayne tells a stripper his dad won the lottery, she then tells him that if he had that fortune she would be with him forever, she goes so far as to recommend a hitman to kill off his dad. So then one night the two decide to order a pizza, kidnap the delivery guy, strap a bomb to his chest, make him rob a bank to get the money to pay off the hitman and then kill the dad and get his money. You see? It’s all pretty dumb. But, hey, at least the hitman is played by Michael Peña, who actually rocks the role and probably gives the best performance of the whole film.

There are a few good things, though, which is why I will give 30 Minutes or Less a grade that means I recommend it. I mean, there’s a big chase scene that’s just seriously well-done, and then there’s Mr. Eisenberg, who’s still very good here even though he isn’t given much to play with, there are still a couple of scenes which he embeds with some nice level of emotion that makes them work much better than they probably should have. As for Mr. Ansari, there are a couple of scenes in which he’s really good, but there are also many in which he fails, not because he doesn’t give it his all, but because the script just didn’t allow for much to be done with it. As for the two baddies, Mr. McBride actually sucks here, he might be one of the funniest guys in showbusiness, but his character was just horribly one-dimensional, Mr. Swardson comes off with the better end of that stick, as Travis is actually a decently-written character with which he does a few fun things that work nicely.

Like I said, I will actually go ahead and recommend this film, the tone and humor may be just too uneven for it to really shine, but there are a few good moments thanks to the very-talented cast assembled here, and even though he mostly takes an ineffective rather stale approach, Mr. Fleischer does craft a few scenes that show he wasn’t a one-hit wonder but that he really does have talent, it’s just that the script here failed him terribly. Thankfully, though, his next film, 2013’s The Gangster Squad, already seems like the greatest of ways to bounce back, as it sees him reunite with Zombieland‘s Ms. Stone and Mr. Peña from this film, and the rest of the castincludes Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte and Mireille Enos. So, yeah, this one may have been disappointing, but you can be sure I’ll be first in line for that one.

Grade: B-

Everything Must Go

11 Jun

Title: Everything Must Go
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Dan Rush
Writer: Dan Rush, based on the short story by Raymond Carver
Starring: 
Will Ferrell, Rebecca Hall, Laura Dern, Christopher Jordan Wallace, Michael Peña
MPAA Rating: 
R, language and some sexual content
Runtime: 
97 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 
76%

I like seeing actors known best for their comedic work stretching out of their comfort zones to tackle more serious fare. And I like it because some truly stunning performances have resulted from that. Just take a look at Adam Sandler in Punch-Drunk Love (my sixth favorite film of 2002), or Bill Murray in Lost in Translation (my favorite film of all-time), even Steve Carell has also done his bit of dramatic acting in Little Miss Sunshine (my fourth favorite of 2004) and, most impressively, there’s Jim Carrey a man that has given three pretty much perfect performances in dramatic roles in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon and The Truman Show. So yeah, when comedians decide to go serious, great things sometimes happen, and that has also extended to the work of Will Ferrell. We were witnesses of that in 2006 when he did Stranger than Fiction (my eleventh favorite film of that year), and we are witnesses of that all over again now, when he takes the leading role in Everything Must Go, an adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story that, while it doesn’t do all that much to improve over its source material, does find a role that it seems Mr. Ferrell was just born to play.

I just thought there was honestly a lot of stuff to like about Everything Must Go. Not only is the performance given by Mr. Ferrell a fantastic one, but there are a trio of sincerely wonderful supporting turns by Rebecca Hall, Christopher Jordan Wallace and Laura Dern. But first, a bit of the story, Mr. Ferrell plays Nick, an Arizona-based salesman who’s about to hit rock bottom as he gets fired from his job and his wife leaves him, freezes his bank account and throws all of his possessions in their front lawn. All of that in one day. Oh, and he’s also battling a case of alcoholism, not in the sense that we’ll get a scene of a misery-stricken Nick in bar shouting and being loud, but in the sense that he just likes to drink, in a sense that he’s just a regular guy but one that has drinking as his number one priority, and that’s the worst kind of alcoholic because that’s the one you actually feel very sorry for, the guy that means well, the guy that doesn’t go on violent fits, the guy that quietly and calmly just drinks his life away.

The short story on which the film is based is a pretty damn good one, and even though I ultimately don’t necessarily think this film did all it could have done to make this a truly successful adaptation, I still think it maintained the essence of that Raymond Carver short story, it’s obviously a much more viewer-friendly approach to the narrative than in the story, but the good stuff is all still very much there, it’s all still very personal and feels like a tough and intimate look at a man’s life crumbling down. And you know Mr. Ferrell is going to rock out a role that requires said stuff from him, because he has that big frame and still manages to look and act like a child at the same time, and because he has the charm to make us connect with the character and care for him, and because, much like he did in Step Brothers (though obviously in a much more serious tone) the guy rocks at playing this sort of child in a man’s body who just failed at living in a man’s world.

So we see Nick, just sitting in a chair in his lawn, with a lamp next to him, trying to act as though everything is normal, trying to hide the fact that he’s in full crisis mode from his neighbors who can now see him do everything as there are no more walls between them. And it’s all pretty good, the problems he faces trying to live in his lawn, getting a rude awakening by the sprinklers bright and early in the morning, showering, and just plain trying to figure out what to do next with his life. But I loved this film the most not because of the situations it put Nick in, but because of the characters it put him with.

One of these characters is Frank, a cop who was also Nick’s sponsor in one of his failed attempts to go through A.A. and who comes to his lawn after the neighbors start complaining about the man living there in plain sight, and who tells him the law allows five days for a yard sale and that’s how much time he has. There’s also Laura Dern delivering a gem of a performance in a small role that has her as Nick’s high school crush who he decides to look up. And then there’s Samantha, a pregnant woman who’s just moving in to the street from a whole other city and who’s husband she is waiting for as he’s to arrive later on. Samantha’s played by Rebecca Hall, who I think is just insanely talented and absolutely beautiful, and Ms. Hall just does her thing with Samantha as she does with all of her roles, making her likable and a soul companion to Nick, it’s just truly fantastic to see the relationship between these two develop.

And then there’s Christopher Jordan Wallace as Kenny. And this is the character I just fell in love with, and the relationship between him and Nick, more than the one between Nick and Samantha, is the best part of this film. And Christopher Jordan Wallace, the fourteen year-old son of the late hip-hop great Notorious B.I.G., is pretty much as perfect for this this role as Mr. Ferrell is as Nick. Kenny is just your typical curious kid, he rides up on his bike in front of Nick’s lawn and asks him the questions everyone wants to ask but only a kid will, and instantly becomes Nick’s business partner in his venture to sell all of his stuff in a yard sale because, as Frank and the movie title told us, everything must go. The movie as whole is pretty laid back really, there is heavy stuff going on but there’s never an urge to really tackle that head-on, and even though some further greatness might have come out of doing that, I’m more than fine with this film not going there, because there are still tremendous performances to watch on display here even without the more emotional load, and Will Ferrell proves once again that funnymen doing serious things can often give us something very special.

Grade: B+

The Lincoln Lawyer

25 Apr

Title: The Lincoln Lawyer
Year:
2011
Director:
Brad Furman
Writer: John Romano, based on the novel by Michael Connelly
Starring:
Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Josh Lucas, John Leguizamo, Michael Peña, Bob Gunton, Bryan Cranston, William H. Macy
MPAA Rating:
R, some violence, sexual content and language
Runtime:
118 min
Major Awards:

IMDb Rating:
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes:
83%

My dad gave me The Lincoln Lawyer to read in early 2007 if I remember correctly. He was a fan of Michael Connelly’s novels and even though he knew I wasn’t a particular fan of best-selling crime genre thought I might like this one. And he was right, the novel went by really fast and I thought it was quite entertaining, and after that I got into some of his other books and found that they, especially those with Connelly’s mainstay Harry Bosch as a protagonist, were pretty okay as well.

So four years later after I read the novel, and six after it was originally published, we get the film adaptation of The Lincoln Lawyer. And I was originally worried because Matthew McConaughey had landed the lead role of Mickey Haller, and even though I thought Mr. McConaughey was a pretty slick guy who had been dependable on rom-coms like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days I didn’t necessarily consider him a good actor.

But then I saw the film, and found out that this was a role that needed Mr. McConaughey to turn up the charm quite a bit, which is something he’s really good at, so he was actually pretty superb in the role, which is probably the best performance he’s given in his career. And that’s not to say that this is a film that goes by just on the charm of its star, because the people that are lined up to star alongside Mr. McConaughey are all seriously great actors, from Marisa Tomei to Bryan Cranston to William H. Macy, the supporting cast here is stacked up with some really awesome names that elevate this one considerably.

And that’s really what The Lincoln Lawyer has going for it that makes it so damn entertaining, a charming star to carry it along and a rock solid cast of supporting players. Because, other than that, it’s not like this one deviates all that much from the courtroom-thiller formula we are all so familiar with by now, but because the cast is so good it doesn’t feel formulaic at all, but instead behaves much like the novels it’s based on did when I read it, it goes by really fast and is real good entertainment from beginning to end.

This is what I talk about when I say a Hollywood commercial film is good, a true surprise that while coming with a studio budget and a string of recognizable faces still managed to be stylish, entertaining and quite clever as well, which is something that in today’s mainstream film world is easier said than done.

I mean, as I said, this is still pretty formulaic, your typical who-did-it courtroom drama that plays out at least once a night in a network TV show. The thing is that this one abandons all the cheap gimmicks and is just a really solid film that doesn’t assume it’s great, but rather approaches its audience much like the sort of novel its source material was, one that you’ll buy at the airport and devour on the plane, the sort of entertainment that doesn’t have ambitions of grandeur, that won’t have you overthinking it, but rather one that you’ll have no trouble keeping up with, I really wouldn’t mind if this became a franchise and we got to hear Mr. McConaughey’s southern drawl as Mickey Haller once every couple of years.

Because Mickey Haller is actually the sort of role Mr. McConaughey should have been playing since he started out, not the charming muscular dude some blonde will fall over in a yearly romantic comedy, but instead a stylish and smooth-talking  wise guy that actually has something interesting to do, think of him here as a cheaper-but-still-effective version of George Clooney. Mickey Haller is a criminal defense attorney who works out of a Lincoln Continental armed with a loyal chauffeur and that usually doesn’t mind getting innocent guys to go to jail so long as a paying customer can walk off innocent.

Yet we see him get a new case from Louis Roulet, a young rich playboy played by Ryan Phillippe who’s been accused of murdering a call-girl, which isn’t as easy as the ones he usually gets, and that starts to get messy real fast, with Mickey and the people he loves getting involved themselves. And while the many plot twists this one throws at you aren’t entirely unexpected nor unpredictable, they make do for fun viewing, not to mention the characters here are all pretty cool, and Los Angeles is portrayed quite nicely by cinematographer Lukas Ettlin, who also shot L.A. in this year’s inferior Battle: Los Angeles, and director Brad Furman who makes his sophomore directorial effort with this one after 2007’s The Take.

I really recommend watching this one, I mean, we see films with smart wise-ass guys quite a bit, and a few of those also include courtroom scenes, but the vast majority of those only focus on the main guy, and don’t pay any mind to the people around him.

And I really can’t stress enough how important that is here, I mean, Mr. McConaughey does indeed give probably the best performance of his career here, one that keeps his macho looks and southern charm alive but that injects him this new-found vulnerability which hopefully is only the beginning of a new stage of his career.

But the people he’s surrounded with here are awesome, Josh Lucas as his opposing attorney, the great Bryan Cranston as a cop, the incomparable William H. Macy as his P.I. of choice. And then there’s Marisa Tomei, who I’ve a had huge crush on since I can remember, and who’s incredibly beautiful and who possess probably the best smile in the world. She plays Mickey’s ex-wife who’s still his friend, and she’s as awesome as ever, and you’ll probably go to jail if you think any different.

Go watch this one if you can, I honestly doubt you’ll be disappointed. I enjoyed it from beginning to end, it was far from amazing, but it was appropriately acted and for all its predictable moves and unnecessary plot lines it never once felt dull. This is what every courtroom thriller made for popular consumption should aspire to be, a film that’s doesn’t really aim for greatness but that doesn’t assume you’re dumb either, and that has charm and talent to spare, just a job well done by everyone involved.

Grade: B+