What are the rules for spoilers when talking about a movie based off an 88-year-old book that was required reading for the vast majority of high-schoolers? Well, just in case you didn't pay attention in English class (or forgot the gory details), I'll try and avoid anything past Chapter 1 territory.The Great Gatsby is kind of a big deal — I mean, you know — for a book or whatever. (Reading, smh-eading, right?) But, people I suppose are qualified to do such considering widely consider it one of the greatest American novels ever penned. The Great Gatsby is, on the surface, about the Roaring Twenties, a wealthy fellow who goes by the name Gatsby and a long-lost love. We find out why Gatsby is (and isn't) so great in a tale of excess, the American dream, and why rich people and the East Coast kind of sucked in the summer of 1922. The ol' GG has been re-imagined as a film multiple times in the past, but this version comes care of Mr. Baz Luhrmann (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge), counts Jay-Z as a producer and stars Leonardo DiCaprio.How does it compare to the novel? I don’t consider faithfulness to the source material too important when talking about a film adaptation — the film vs. book debate seems apples vs. oranges to me — but there are moments that feel almost perfectly pulled from the page, with dialog and details spot on. There are also parts stretched, cut or exaggerated and a few
liberties taken. (For example, the whole story is being recounted by narrator Nick Carraway [Tobey Maguire] to a therapist.) But faithful or re-imagined, the tale is always told through that colorful Baz lens, which goes from silly (e.g., the introduction of a lounging Daisy [Carey Mulligan
] and Jordan [
Elizabeth Debicki]) to tense (e.g., the climactic day in the city on the hottest day of the summer).How Baz is it, doc? He really turns the Baz on and off at times. There are some scenes — like the apartment party where Nick gets hammered for the second time in his life (one of the visual highlights of the film), or on a manufactured meeting over tea where Gatsby goes overboard on the flowers, or watching hundreds of guests get rowdy at Gatsby's glitzy ragers — that are a treat for the eyes. There are other sights and sounds I wasn't so wowed by. The abundance of CG in the first few minutes started things off on the wrong foot. Sure, Baz’s look would rarely be described as ultra-realistic and there aren't many other options for showing ‘20s-era NYC, but the visuals feel inconsistent — jumping from entirely green-screened sets early on to on-location shoots in ostentatious mansions later in the film. The second half of the film feels so different at times than the first that I forgot during some scenes this was a Baz Luhrmann movie. Should I see it? Go for it.
Baz's take of GG
is plenty enjoyable and over the top and subdued as needed. Leo D. keeps the decade-long hot streak going of being the highlight of nearly everything he's in. No actor could get away with saying "old sport" this much without deserving a punch in the face. In some ways, his performance reminds of Catch Me If You Can; Gatsby has a mysterious past — the source of wealth is the stuff of late-night whispers — and as he talks about being an Oxford man
and his family's fortune, there's something in his voice that makes us think he might be holding back
.What does it taste like? That's a weird question
. I guess... peppermint ice cream and hot tea. But how about what I liked most about the film? That's an easier question. It's
the cast: Leo’s Gatsby is a treat, as are Mulligan as Daisy and Joel Edgerton as her husband, old-money d-bag and polo player Tom Buchanan.What's not so great?
- Baz is hyperactive with the zoom to a point that annoys. This constant moving in and moving out mixed with some scenes wrought with quick cuts gets irritating at times — particularly during the first half.
- Tobey Maguire is OK, but, God he's so Tobey Maguire-y — stoned looking, mousy and mostly forgettable.
- The 3D has it’s moments, but why would we voluntarily darken Baz's vivid visuals just to see a few panes of 3D glass and party streamers pop?
-- Eric Pulsifer
- Last among my gripes, the music — mainly Jay-Z's contributions. I know it's Baz's game to throw modern music in, but when it's Jay-Z and Kanye songs that we've heard on the radio a million times before, it doesn't have the same punch as, say, Radiohead's chilly "Talk Show Host" in Romeo + Juliet. I suspect that Jay-Z fancies himself a bit of an F. Scott Fitzgerald and Watch the Throne as a critique on excess and America's love affair with material things, so it makes sense he'd want to be a part of this movie. But, I think that might just be in his head, as I'm not sure that's the message we're getting here.
In journalism, the source is god. Good journalism — the stuff that gets closer to "real" journalism (as I brand it, at least) and away from just fly-on-the-wall meeting reporting — is built on a foundation of understanding context and research, but much faith is inevitably placed in the source. If the source says something and the author quotes it, the reader assumes (and the author hopes) this information to be fact. But, there may not be a whiz-bang team of veteran fact-checkers making sure the source isn't spouting nonsense. This unfiltered information may
be true, or the only thing true about the quote may be that the source said it. The reader may forget, in many instances, what they're reading on the page is just a game of telephone.
This might only seem relevant to those brave, financially reckless souls currently pursuing a journalism degree, but it's also at the heart of one of the biggest (and mostly unnecessary) controversies about Zero Dark Thirty
: Does the movie imply that without torture, U.S. soldiers and operatives would never have been able to locate and kill the most wanted man in the world?
Go ahead and Google Zero Dark Thirty
if you've somehow missed the parade of congressmen and click-hungry bloggers shaking their fingers at director Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break
) and writer Mark Boal for how inaccurate or dangerous this idea is — an idea they see as being perpetuated by ZDT
. (Though, it should be noted, in the movie the useful bits of info gained from interrogations come when agents are using the carrot rather than the stick, even if they've used the stick before.) There have also been some
pieces written about how, disturbing or not, this may very well be accurate — that Americans on the front lines may have committed war crimes in their quest to track down Osama bin Laden.
But the thing that both sides of this debate seem to overlook is that it doesn't matter in the case of ZDT
. And not because "it's just a movie."
In case you don’t read past this first sentence, I’ll get this message out up front: Don’t go see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
in HFR3D. (More on what that is and why it sucks in a sec). The Hobbit
takes place 60 years before the events of The Lord of the Rings
. It follows a group of outcast dwarves on a quest to reclaim their kingdom from a dragon, an adventure that, in the film version of the children’s tale, feels more like it’s really about tying a new trilogy into LOTR
. After a lengthy setup, this gang of shorties and wizard Gandalf (played once more by charming old dude Ian McKellen) embark on a hike that frames the events that lead a young Bilbo Baggins (played by the ridiculously likable Martin Freeman, a.k.a. Dr. Watson from the BBC’s Sherlock
— which, if you haven’t seen, you should probably just stop reading, skip The Hobbit
and marathon immediately on Netflix like your friends have been telling you for months — a.k.a. Tim, the British Office
’s much cooler version of the U.S. Office
’s goodie-two-shoes Jim) to come to possess that "precious" One Ring.
The plot is a tad simpler than the LOTR
trilogy, though it amounts to about the same: three hours of walking
. But, then of course there’s that rich and wonderful world of Tolkien that all the fantasy fans go so bonkers for. (And, of course, walking is hella good
for you, which could explain why Gandalf looks younger 60 years in the future than he does in The Hobbit
.) It also tries harder to be more light-hearted and funny than the LOTR
films, though there's still plenty of sword clashing, snarling nightmare beasts, and a decent villain in the form of a one-armed white orc named Azog the Defiler.
So, should you go see it? The answer to this question, trolls, disembowelment and HFR after the jump!
After falling head over heels for Daniel Craig's steely, sociopathic Bond in the white-knuckle opening chase scene of Casino Royale
only to be thoroughly bored and confused by the choppy quick cuts of Quantum of Solace
, I wasn't sure what to expect with Bond 23, Skyfall
Like me, you've probably heard people gushing about it — calling Skyfall
one of, nay, the best 007 movie to date. Could it be?
Not hurting its chances for success is the knowledge that they've brought in a decent director, Sam Mendes of American Beauty, Road to Perdition
and Revolutionary Road
fame. You've also got the return of Daniel Craig, the most believable if not best Bond of my generation.Skyfall
continues on the track of bringing James Bond into a more realistic world, a world without jetpacks or invisible cars or good guys who seems ever protected from the sea of bullets blasting their way.
Here, Craig is still the chiseled Jason Bourne-style badass from Casino Royale,
but he's much more human than we've ever seen Bond before. After a close brush with death, Bond returns to MI6 in rough shape. He's been seriously injured, his aim is off, and he's been reduced to drinking Heineken. What's worse, he's troubled by the realization that, if needed, he's dispensable as far as his country is concerned. Bond is vulnerable. He gets hurt, gasps for breath, and as much as he's firing guns on screen, he's seen reloading them.
But the added realism doesn't weigh things down. The script injects some much-needed humor into the series, poking fun at the classic archetypes of the Bond universe and the absurdity of a run-and-gun super spy.
This is all portrayed through some dazzling bits of camerawork On more than one occasion we get brief first-person views through Bond's eyes and then there's a gorgeous scene of close quarters combat as Bond and a bad guy's battling silhouettes are back-lit by neon light.
What really sets Skyfall
apart from any Bond in recent memory is the antagonist, played brilliantly by Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men
). To say much at all about his character would take some of the fun away, but from his introductory monologue — a tense, long single shot — to his humorous interactions with Bond, every scene Bardem's madman villain is in is a highlight.
The talk is true; Skyfall
is the best Bond film to date — though your results may vary depending on how rose-colored your recollection of 007's earlier outings is. With a perfectly shaken cocktail of over-the-top action, comedy and realism, it'll leave Bond fans foaming at the mouth for where the series will go next
could have been something special. Once you get past a few of the kings of non-comedy — Adam Sandler, Kevin James and David Spade — being involved, Hotel Transylvania
sounds devilishly delightful on paper.
It's directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the creator of Dexter's Laboratory, Samurai Jack
, and the ridiculously good Star Wars: Clone Wars
mini-series. The music is handled by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo (and Yo Gabba Gabba!
), while Robert Smigel, of SNL
’s TV Funhouse
and Triumph the Insult Comic Dog, had a hand in the screenplay.
That’s not to say that Hotel Transylvania
is bad — it’s not. It’s just billed as a comedy — and, it’s not.Looney Tunes, Cee Lo Green and invisible butts after the jump!
Reboots are hit or miss. (As opposed to the Canadian CGI cartoon ReBoot
, which was consistently 100 percent brilliant, and don’t you dare tell me you’ve watched it recently and it sucks now. I won’t stand for that) However, there wasn’t much left to do but hit the reset button after the last outing of Peter Parker.
Yes, the world might like to forget Spider-Man 3
ever happened, but I’m not sure true believers were clamoring for a reboot so soon — just five years later. It’s like Sam Raimi and Tobey Maguire brutally murdered our beloved family cat in front of us. Then, 10 minutes later, the dude who directed (500) Days of Summer
and Zuckerberg’s scorned buddy from The Social Network
show up with a brand new, adorable kitten, and Emma Stone, in a schoolgirl outfit and thigh-high stockings, cleans up the mess. They’re a fun bunch, but they’re expecting us to so quickly forget the horrible scene we’ve witnessed just moments before. A stab of guilt says we should linger on the memory of our sweet, dead feline friend before moving on, but this new kitty is awful cute, and Thomas Haden Church was just so bad as Sandman.
Dead cats and Mr. Haden Church aside, The Amazing Spider-Man
is the best iteration of the web-slinging superhero I’ve seen on any screen, big or small. Even the two good Spidey films Raimi helmed pale in comparison, and thanks rests squarely on the shoulders of the ultra-likable pair of Andrew Garfield (Peter Parker) and Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy).
There’s fantastic chemistry between Garfield and Stone, and though neither of them could convince anyone they’re actually young enough to still be in high school, they pull off the awkward teenage puppy love bit remarkably well.
Director Marc Webb, whose credits include a slew of pop-punk and emo music videos over the past decade and only one other full-length film, (500) Days of Summer
, takes the focus away from the mask and turns the lens on the boy behind it. Garfield is rarely in costume and half of the time he is, he is sans mask. And that’s why it works.
Even though the most ignorant of comic and pop culture lore probably know most of the details of Spider-Man’s origins — if you have any exposure to Spider-Man, you’ll know everything that’s going to happen over the first hour — Webb’s retelling packs a punch with solid performances and sweeps of tear-jerking score that kick in at just the right moment. Though we know where this ride is going, we still feel for the characters in a way we rarely did in Raimi’s take.
But, while the focus is what’s going on with the guy under the suit, the action scenes are impressive and easy to follow, a rare treat. This Spider-Man isn’t invulnerable, but he plays to his strengths. He’s smart and fast as hell; he spends more time dodging blows than he does landing them. Well, most of the time.
Before and after he gains his super powers, Peter Parker spends plenty of time getting his ass stomped. Garfield’s Peter Parker is also less of a dork than Maguire’s. He’s still a bit of an outcast and a goody two-shoes, but he’s got a handsome hipster edge to him (e.g., he has a sweet vintage film camera and rides a skateboard). This is all in line with the overall darker tone of the film. (Darker by Spider-Man standards — Webb’s NYC isn’t as bleak as Nolan’s Gotham City.) We normally see Spider-Man in the dark of night as he zips across the black and neon lit backdrop of New York City on a quest for vengeance that becomes a search for purpose.
In the end, it may be the most heartfelt tale we’ve seen pulled from the comics yet. I couldn’t have cared less about the fate of Maggie Gyllenhaal in The Dark Knight
or Robert Downey Jr. in The Avengers
, I found myself genuinely concerned about what might happen to Garfield and Stone. For a comic book movie, that’s pretty amazing.
Good "clever" comedic writing isn’t easy, but I’d be willing to wager that writing good l"ow-brow" comedy is even more difficult. Granted, I’m pretty lousy at gambling — I owe my roommate $10 for a lost bet that Blue October was to blame for the 1995 hit “Breakfast at Tiffany’s
” (turns out it was Deep Blue Something, another Texas band with the color blue in the name). But consider the fine line walked between a simple fart joke and a memorable one like Dumb and Dumber
Or, consider the least known of Sacha Baron Cohen’s films, 2003’s Ali G Indahouse
, the first scripted Ali G movie and one that is not particularly funny or what some people might call “good.” (Indahouse
is the only other SBC film besides The Dictator
to not be done in mockumentary style. It’s also 90 minutes of proof that waiting a few years to get Ali G in the States courtesy of HBO was worth it considering the U.S. version of Da Ali G Show
was sans scripted skits.)
There was a time when I could think of few people funnier than Mr. SBC; then he gave us Brüno
Fortunately, The Dictator
proves there are some signs of life for SBC in a post-Ali G world, which is a relief as Ali G and the two other quirky characters from his eponymous TV series, Borat and Brüno, have been retired. Dictator Admiral General Aladeen may be the weakest of SBC’s characters thus far but still provides a vessel for delivering outrageous material, the best of which comes thanks to some incredible wingman work from Jason Mantzoukas (Rafi
from FX’s The League
). When the two are going back and forth it makes for the film’s funniest moments.
The laughs take a bit to get going, but once The Dictato
r hits its raucous high point (with a woman giving birth in a grocery store) there’s enough delightfully shocking, brilliantly stupid and oh-so-right offensive moments to keep the laughs coming.
Those not amused by SBC's hijinks from his Ali G days will have similar complaints here. "Is he drawing awareness to sensitive subjects or making light of them?" It's the type of heavy question that caused Dave Chappelle to leave his show and causes uptight critics to toss around words and phrases like "misogyny
" or "too soon
" instead of answering the only question that matters in comedy: Is it funny?
If you consider yourself sensitive, there's plenty in The Dictator
that may offend or outrage, and for you, the answer to that simple question may very well be no. At it's worse, The Dictator
feels reminiscent of a bad SNL
movie with a handful of rape jokes added in. But, at times, it brings back fond memories of Sunday nights spent watching HBO — a simpler day when The Wire
was still on the air and Entourage
was just a bad idea bouncing around in Marky Mark's head.
While The Dictator
appears to be about 99 percent scripted, there is at least one brief scene where SBC talks to an unwitting extra or two on the streets of New York. And, some of the exchanges between characters — particularly SBC and Mantzoukas — feel at least partially ad libbed. Though The Dictator
is missing the kind of back and forth between comedian and oblivious interviewee that made Ali G so magical, a majority of what made that so memorable was SBC knowing how to ask the right questions. It’s clear that SBC still has a few tricks up his sleeve to delight and disgust, even if he’s not making celebrities look like fools while the audience squirms in their seats.
The way I feel about Tim Burton movies is not so unlike the way I feel about vanilla ice cream. It’s not bad, but I know what it’s going to taste like, and I feel like if I’m going to waste the waist space on frozen creamy goodness it should have some candy bars or molten chocolate or coffee beans or crazy jazz in it. Even when vanilla ice cream is really good — Mexican vanilla with little bits of vanilla bean in it — it’s still vanilla ice cream. In this way, Dark Shadows is a familiar thing. Not bad, but not particularly exciting. Not exactly funny, scary or dramatic. Slightly campy and a tad creepy. (I’ve moved on from talking about ice cream now.)
Dark Shadows is based on the ‘60s soap opera of the same name. Johnny Depp plays Barnabas, a wealthy playboy from the 1700s who crosses a witch, who in turn transforms him into a vampire and buries him alive, where he remains undisturbed for 200 years. He is inadvertently freed in 1972 and returns to his former estate to check up on his descendants and the town his family built.
Assuming that the words pouring into your eye holes right now are being consumed to help you decide whether or not to see this film, I’ve decided to introduce someone who sees Burton flicks as more of a chocolate ice cream. (Back to dessert again. I know — I’ve got a problem.) Hopefully this vanilla-chocolate swirl will help with your movie-going decision making. And with that, I humbly submit for your reader’s consideration this real post-viewing conversation.
Johnny Depp gets creepy, goth teenage girls, Andy Warhol, Downton Abbey and more after the jump!
Hands down, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers
is the best movie to come out of a Marvel comic. It’s not brilliant, but it’s mighty entertaining. And, dammit if Whedon (Buffy, Firefly, Dr. Horrible
) doesn’t make it hard to hate him. His fingerprints are all over this epic superhero tale with an ensemble cast of superheroes, and you’ll love him for it. As goofy as the action and actors on the screen should be, each character — even the crap ones like Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) — feel real, likable and relatable. The dialogue and the action is sharp and often funny bordering on hilarious.
A handful of Marvel films over the past five years back have paved the way for The Avengers
. Whether you’re just getting into the universe now or need a brief refresher, here’s a (mostly) spoiler-free recap of what came before.Thor
— The god of thunder lives with his dad/king Odin in a galaxy where science has become so advanced there is no discernible difference between technology and magic. (Plus, Stringer Bell
is still alive.) Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the heir to the throne, gets exiled to Earth thanks to his jerk-hole adopted brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor bumps into and befriends a group of scientists (Natalie Portman, Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård). Quickly learning the ways of our planet, Thor takes up the goal of every Earth male and attempts to bed Natalie Portman. Back in bizarro space world, Loki tries to do bad stuff and Thor stops him. Along the way we get our first peek at the definitely-not-a-real-super hero Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), an archer who plays a big role in The Avengers
. Should you watch it?
Sure, but is it necessary? Depends. It does lay the groundwork for The Avengers main nemesis Loki, but it’s nothing the uninitiated won’t be able to follow.Captain America: The First Avenger
— Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is a scrawny, Small Town, USA, kid determined to serve his country in World War II. While he’s barely strong enough to hold up a rifle, his quick wits and ferocious loyalty make him the perfect candidate for a secret U.S. super soldier program. He gets strong, gets an indestructible shield from Iron Man’s pops, takes out some Nazis and steals their magical space cube
, which is later recovered by the senior Stark. Things go down, and Rogers wakes up 70 years later, where Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) tells him he has a job for him. Should you watch it?
Do it. It’s good all-American fun and basically ends where The Avengers
starts off.Iron Man
— Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) is a smart-ass,, over-sexed billionaire genius — think a less emo Bruce Wayne/Batman — who creates a robot suit and becomes Iron Man. He has a magnet in his chest that keeps shrapnel in his blood stream from hitting his heart and killing him. Should you watch it?
Hell yes. Iron Man
is the stuff of summer blockbuster gold.Iron Man 2
— We pick up where the first film left off: Tony Stark announcing to the world he’s Iron Man, but now, instead of being all fun and super-cool, he’s just a whiny prick who drinks too much. The Black Widow is an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who poses as Stark’s assistant. Stark cleans up his act and saves the day, but he hears from Nick Fury that he isn’t making the cut for S.H.I.E.L.D.’s superhero team. Should you watch it?
Nope. Even RDJ’s charm, the addition of Don Cheadle and a bunch of shiny special effects can save this sorry excuse for a sequel.Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
— There’s a minor connection to The Avengers
here with a bunch of the trippy space crap that Marvel did in the ‘60s: Silver Surfer and Galactus, who appears in this — the worst (or second worst if you want to pull the Ghost Rider
card) of the worst Marvel comic book films — as a cloud. Should you watch it?
Dear me, no. This is a connection that will probably remain unconnected in the Marvel film universe.The Hulk
— Ang Lee’s take on the not-so-jolly green giant was pretty much universally (probably more so than is deserved, really) hated. Should you watch it?
Egh... And there’s no good reason to if you’re prepping for The Avengers
. The only bits of Hulk backstory relevant to The Avengers
are in 2008’s The Incredible Hulk
, which rebooted the character for the current Marvel film universe.The Incredible Hulk
— Just five years after Ang Lee’s take, we get an lighter reboot of the Hulk. Here, we learn the Hulk is born out of a military experiment to create a super solider. Living in hiding, Banner struggles to control the Hulk through meditation. Important note: When he turns all big and green, he’s not just strong — he has limitless physical strength. Should you watch it?
If you like seeing Hulk smash shit, go for it. It’s big and dumb and there’s not much you need to know here for The Avengers
unless you want to see how Norton stacks up to his Hulk replacement Mark Ruffalo. (Ruffalo is way better.)Everything else Marvel-ous
— While they could very easily be made to fit in the same world, there’s no explicit connections made to X-Men, Spider-Man, Daredevil,
or any of the other Marvel properties turned into films.
So there you have it. That’s everything you could possibly need to know. Now go see The Avengers
. It’s as good as superhero movies get this side of The Dark Knight
Chances are you’ve already made up your mind about whether or not you’ll see Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Like so many films framing fictional tales around real-life tragedies past, it could be argued a movie centered around the events of Sept. 11 is going to be at best a tacky melodrama and at worst an exploitative venture that cashes in on very real sorrow and the deaths of 3,000 innocent people.
In this case, the movie is based off the book of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer (Everything is Illuminated), who, coincidentally, like director Stephen Daldry (The Reader, The Hours), has a previous work rooted in another sorrowful bit of history — the Holocaust.
ELIC is a tale (heavily) narrated by 10-year-old Oskar Schell (Thomas Horn), whose father (Tom Hanks) died on “the worst day.” (Though narration is the go-to easy-way out for working the best parts of a book into a film adaptation, it's hard to fault Daldry for the tactic when faced with a collection of words as potent as Foer's) Desperately attempting to make sense of his father’s death and coping with the expanding gulf of time separating him from the memory of his father, Oskar embarks on a nearly impossible quest to unlock the meaning of a key left behind by his father and a lost and mostly forgotten sixth borough of New York.
Continued after the jump.